One night a season or so ago, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon failed to make what seemed to be a fairly routine catch of a low line drive. The next day I talked to outfield coach Rusty Kuntz and asked what happened on that play, and as I suspected, the low line drive stayed in the lights; Alex Gordon did not catch the ball because he couldn’t see it.
Rusty then said when a Gold Glove outfielder fails to make a routine catch, it would be smart to wait and find out what happened before assuming the outfielder did something wrong.
Because of plays like that one I’ve grown reluctant to be overly critical of game decisions until I talk to the people involved. Over and over again, I’ve discovered that there was something I didn’t know that explained why the players and coaches did what they did.
But in the brave, new world of social media, a lot of people don’t want to wait; seconds after a play happens they’ll be on Twitter offering praise or condemnation. Being timely is more important than being accurate.
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An example: Mike Moustakas gets thrown out at home
In the seventh inning of Monday night’s game against the Twins, third base coach Mike Jirschele sent Mike Moustakas home on a Paulo Orlando double. The ball was mishandled by the Twins defense, but even with that misplay, Moose was thrown out at home plate.
There were two outs at the time and third-base coaches will get very aggressive about sending runners with two outs; stop the runner at third and you’re asking for another two-out hit.
But the Royals were down by four runs; in that situation base coaches usually won’t send a runner unless the run is almost certain to score. So why did Mike Jirschele decide to send Mike Moustakas home?
It certainly seemed like a bad decision, so someone watching the game could go on Twitter and bury Mike Jirschele right away — or — if the person watching the game had a blog dedicated to going inside baseball and finding out why people did what they did, that person could wait until he talked to Mike Jirschele and found out why Mike sent Moose in that situation.
You don’t always get to talk to people when you want to
Fortunately, I’m not required to report on games immediately; I can wait until I talk to the people involved to find out what was going on, but sometimes those people aren’t readily available. Coaches do not appear in front of the media after games. Coaches usually stay in the off-limits coaches’ room, and if you want to talk to one you have to grab him as he goes to the field or comes off it. Complicating the task is the fact that the Royals have been skipping outside batting practice lately so coaches aren’t going to the field as often.
So I didn’t get a chance talk to Jirschele until Wednesday afternoon and here’s his technical explanation for what happened on that Mike Moustakas play:
“I messed it up.”
Why Jirschele sent Moustakas
With Moustakas on first base, Orlando hit the ball over the head of Eddie Rosario, the Twins left fielder. The ball went off the bullpen fence and Rosario retrieved it from the warning track.
When a ball goes all the way to the wall, teams run a double cut; there are two cutoff men in the outfield. Double cuts are used because if the outfielder misses the first cutoff man, the ball is still a long way from the infield and will take forever to roll all the way back in. The second cutoff man is there to make sure the ball gets back to the infield quickly.
Rosario not only missed both cutoff men, he threw to the wrong base: Moustakas was headed for home, but Rosario threw the ball to third. When Jirschele saw the overthrow and the ball headed to the wrong base, he thought Moose would score easily. Unfortunately for the Royals and Mike Jirschele, Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe recovered in time, got to third base, caught the off-line throw and redirected it toward home plate to nail Moustakas.
In retrospect, Jirschele also thought he miscalculated how well was Moustakas was running. Moose had been out for a while with a leg problem and still wasn’t running as well as Jirschele thought he would.
But those are explanations, not excuses. Bottom line: Jirschele said being down by four runs trumped everything — he shouldn’t have sent Mike Moustakas.
The difference between a good and a bad send
Fans and the media tend to focus on results: we wait until a play is over and if the runner’s safe we think the decision-making behind the play was good. If the runner’s out we think it was a bone-head move.
Ballplayers and coaches focus on the process: they have to make decisions before they know whether or not those decisions will work out, so they look at the factors involved and the options available. All they can do is pick the option with the highest chance of success. So if sending the runner was the best option available, but he’s still thrown out, the third-base coach doesn’t lose a lot of sleep over it.
In this case sending Mike Moustakas was a mistake because the Royals were down by four runs.
But take the time to talk to Mike Jirschele and you realize he didn’t lose his mind; he miscalculated, but he had reasons for doing what he did. And Mike appreciated the fact that I found out why he would make that decision before I criticized it.
It may have taken four days to get this column on the Internet, but if I have to choose — and I do — I’d rather be accurate than fast. There’s enough uninformed, knee-jerk criticism on the Internet and I’m trying not to add to it.
What to watch for in tonight’s game
Camden Yards’ dimensions make it a better home run park than Kauffman, so with the exception of dead center field, any ball that clears the wall and lands in first few rows of seats would probably be a warning track out in Kansas City.
Danny Duffy is on the mound and he can struggle to locate strikes within the strike zone. The Royals’ outfield usually plays straight up behind Danny until he goes through the order at least once; if he’s on with his location they can begin to shift more dramatically the second or third time through the order, but if they stay straight up throughout Danny’s appearance it means he’s wild in the zone. Danny might throw a strike, but it might not be a strike in the desired part of the strike zone.
Watch the catcher’s mitt and you’ll have a good idea if Danny is hitting his spots tonight.