Judging the Royals

Behind in the count; behind on the scoreboard

When pitchers are behind in the count they tend to become more predictable; they have to throw a strike and a fastball is the most likely option. When pitchers are ahead in the count they’re less predictable; they don’t have to throw a strike and they can use any pitch in their arsenal.

On Sunday a lot of the damage done by the Detroit Tigers was done when Jason Vargas was behind in the count.

In the second inning Nick Castellanos homered when he got a fastball in a 3-2 count. (3-2 can become a fastball count when the pitcher doesn’t want to walk the hitter. If the pitcher doesn’t mind putting the hitter on, he can throw any pitch he likes.) In the third inning Rajai Davis doubled when he got a fastball in a 2-1 count. In the fourth inning Andrew Romine singled when he got a fastball in a 2-1 count. Later in the same inning Ian Kinsler singled when he got a fastball in 3-2 count. In the fifth inning Austin Jackson singled when he got a fastball in a 3-2 count. In that same fifth inning Alex Avila homered when he got a fastball in a 3-2 count.

Throw fastballs in fastball counts and bad things tend to happen. Fall behind in the count and you may find yourself behind on the scoreboard.

Detroit wins this one, 9-4.

Game notes

Third inning:

Rajai Davis led things off with a double. Where does the centerfielder stand when there’s a runner on second and nobody out? To the right field side of second base. Here’s why: the hitter is probably trying to hit the ball to the opposite field to advance the runner to third. That’s what Ian Kinsler did, but he hit the ball in the air and lined out to Nori Aoki. Keep the ball on the ground and a 14-hopper to second base will get the job done.

Fourth inning:

With two outs and two runners in scoring position, Ian Kinsler was at the plate with a 3-2 count. With first base open would Kinsler get anything to hit? Yup, Miguel Cabrera was on deck so it made more sense to try to get the third out by pitching to Kinsler. Didn’t work—Kinsler hit an infield single and a run scored.

Rajai Davis stole a base in the third, one of three the Tigers stole Sunday afternoon. They appeared to be stealing on Jason Vargas, not Salvador Perez. Watch a pitcher’s delivery and if he uses a high leg kick, it’s taking a long time to get the ball to home plate. That means the catcher doesn’t have much chance.

Sixth inning:

Tim Collins pitched in relief, never fell behind in the count and provided the Royals with their first 1-2-3 inning of day. In the bottom of the inning Billy Butler broke up Jason Verlander’s no hitter with a single to right. Made sense; coming into the game Butler had hit .437 life time off Verlander.

Ninth inning: Closer Greg Holland pitched the ninth because he hadn’t pitched since the second game of the Toronto series. They called the pen to see if Wade Davis or Holland wanted an inning; Davis said no, Holland said yes.

Omar Infante: a professional preparer

The Royals have been using Omar Infante’s pregame routine as an example: they tell younger players to watch him prepare and do what he does—this guy understands how to get ready for a 162 game season. Saturday afternoon I watched Infante from the moment he stepped on the field until the moment he left. Here’s what I saw:

Infante did not waste any energy. Younger players were hopping and bopping around, Infante stood calmly and watched. Younger teammates were burning energy they might need later. The goal is to be at your best at 7:10, not 4:20. Some younger guys don’t do enough prep work, some do too much. A younger player might get to the park early and take so many swings it’s counterproductive. Too many swings wear you out and when you take swings tired, bad habits get reinforced.

When Infante took ground balls he took some backhand, some forehand and some squared up. He then came into hit and here’s what he did:

First round:

Two bunts, seven line drives to the right side.

Second round:

Six balls to right side, on the seventh swing Infante finally pulled a pitch, but then went right back to the opposite field.

Third round:

Six swings—the first two went to the opposite field; then Infante started to spray the ball. He also started to load up and hit drives.

Fourth round:

Omar now started to drive the ball with every swing—left center, then right field, then centerfield.

Fifth round:

One ball up the middle, then three to the right side.

And that brings up a question; how does anyone think a pull-hitter shift will work on this guy? If you look up Infante’s spray chart you see the majority of ground balls between second and third, but if you watch him take BP it’s clear Omar can go the other way when he wants to. Leave the entire right side open and he’ll want to. Maybe that’s why Houston is 10-21.

Omar Infante was very methodical , never hurried and didn’t waste any energy that he’d need later. He wrapped up batting practice, went to the stands, signed a few autographs and then left the field.

Next time you’re at the park; pick a guy. Watch his routine. Does he go through his prep like Infante or does he spend his time trying to hit bomb after bomb, then get into a game and swing at slider after slider? If a guy does nothing but pull the ball in BP, smart pitchers will take advantage of that later.

This is why the Royals want their young players emulating Omar Infante; he’s not just a professional player, he’s a professional preparer.

(Infante went 1 for 5 Sunday afternoon.)

West coast road trip

The Royals are headed to San Diego and Seattle this week which means late start times. Don’t be surprised if the game story isn’t posted until sometime the next morning—but it will be posted.