People are fascinated by pitchers that throw 100 miles an hour, but ballplayers will tell you location and movement are more important. Take Friday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles: Yordano Ventura threw 113 pitches and not one of them registered 100 miles an hour on the radar gun.
Of course 99 ain’t bad, but being more consistent with his mechanics, throwing strikes, pitching ahead in the count and changing speeds had a lot more to do with Ventura’s eight shutout innings than his ability to hit triple digits on a Jugs gun.
Ask pitchers the best pitch in baseball and they don’t say it’s a 100-MPH heater, they say it’s strike one. Throw strike one, get ahead in the count and a pitcher has a lot of options. By my scorebook Ventura threw first-pitch strikes to 21 Orioles batters—four of them got hits. That’s a .190 average. Ventura walked two, hit a batter and gave up seven singles, but he never had more than two base runners in an inning. He struck out eight; two on fastballs, one on a changeup and five strikeouts came on curveballs. Yordana Ventura pitched like his nickname—Ace.
And he didn’t have to throw 100 miles an hour to do it.
Royals 5, Orioles 0.
First inning: Eric Hosmer went first to third when Billy Butler hit a ball to right field. Look for runners to try to make it to third base on singles to right; it’s a long throw for the right fielder. Two pitches later Butler couldn’t
go first to third on Alex Gordon’s single to right. That cost the Royals a run and Salvador Perez an RBI when Sal grounded into a fielder’s choice. Of course if Billy couldn’t make it to third, he might not have scored on a groundball up the middle, either.
Alcides Escobar stole second base, but Orioles catcher Matt Wieters makes it tough; most big league catchers can receive a pitch and throw the ball to second base in 2.0 seconds; a select few can do it faster than that. Wieters and Salvador Perez are on the list, so don’t be surprised if both managers use the bunt and hit and run to advance runners in this series. Unless they can guess right on and go on an off-speed pitch, stolen bases might be hard to come by.
Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar made hard outs to the opposite field. Hard outs are just outs in the scorebook, but hard outs hit the other way are also encouraging. A hitter had to do an awful lot right to hit the ball hard to the opposite field and if he just keeps doing it, that approach will eventually pay off.
In the bottom of the fourth with David Lough at the plate, Ventura threw what appeared to be a strike on the inside corner, but didn’t get the call. Probably because catcher Salvador Perez was set up on theoutside corner and had to reach to his right to catch the ball. If a pitch is caught between a catcher’s knees it’s more likely to be called a strike than a pitch caught outside
the knees. Smart catchers subtly move with the pitch—they sway or twist—to keep the ball between their knees and make the pitch look better.
With a left-handed shift on, both Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas tried to bunt the ball to the left side, but couldn’t get their bunts down. Guys are going to have to work on bunting if they want to beat all these shifts we’re seeing.
Jarrod Dyson singled, then broke for second base with Nori Aoki at the plate. The Orioles second baseman moved to cover second and that opened up the right side of the infield. With a runner breaking for second base, the hitter has to pull the ball or go the other way—if the batter hits the ball up the middle an infielder will be standing on the bag.
Billy Butler drove in the Royals fifth run when he doubled over the right fielder’s head. In the seventh inning Billy pulled a pitch on the outer half and hit a rollover grounder to start a 6-4-3 double play. In his next at bat Billy got another pitch on the outer half—the Orioles were probably hoping he’d hit another rollover grounder to start another double play—but Billy made the adjustment and drove it to right.
One reason Aaron Crow’s velocity is down
Since we’re on the subject: hitters saylate
movement is what makes a pitch really tough to hit. A pitch that appears headed for one location and then darts to another is damn hard to square up.
Former relief pitcher and current Angels GM Jerry Dipoto told me about a time he felt he was throwing very hard, but was still getting lit up. Jerry asked a buddy on another team what it was like facing him and the guy said: "You’re straight as a string, dude."
Now let’s talk about Aaron Crow.
Some people—and Ned Yost says he isn’t one of them—are concerned about Crow’s drop in pitch velocity. Aaron has said he’s throwing more two-seamers and that explains the radar gun readings; four-seamers are harder, but straight—two-seamers are a bit slower, but move. Ned says he doesn’t care about radar gun reading as long as Crow keeps getting people out.
Aaron Crow had appeared in nine games, pitched seven innings and given up zero earned runs.