Judging the Royals

Kendrys Morales puts the Royals on his back

Kansas City Royals' Kendrys Morales (25) hits a solo home run, his third home run of a baseball game, against the Detroit Tigers during the eighth inning at Comerica Park Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Detroit.
Kansas City Royals' Kendrys Morales (25) hits a solo home run, his third home run of a baseball game, against the Detroit Tigers during the eighth inning at Comerica Park Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Detroit. AP

So now we know; if you want to win a ballgame, just have your DH hit three home runs, a triple and set a team record for total bases. Against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, Kendrys Morales had a pretty decent week: four hits—three home runs and a triple—a walk, five runs scored, three driven in and a team record of 15 total bases.

The Royals beat the Tigers, the Minnesota Twins beat the Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City currently has a magic number of three. The Royals and Twins have an off day today, so that magic number will still be three on Tuesday.

Some interesting stuff from this road trip

Every once in a while I wind up with a bunch of interesting tidbits of baseball information that don’t fit into larger pieces. So every once in a while I post a column with those tidbits in no particular order. Today is one of those days.

Can you change bats in the middle of a plate appearance?

Lorenzo Cain has been looking for a gamer—a bat he likes well enough to use in a game—for a while now. Just before the Royals went on this road trip, Lorenzo told me he still hadn’t found the bat.

In one of his at-bats in Detroit, Lorenzo fouled a ball off and wanted to change bats in the middle of his plate appearance. The home plate umpire—Gary Cederstrom—wouldn’t let him. As far as I know there’s no rule against changing bats while at the plate (correct me if I’m wrong—and I’m sure you will), but umpires like to keep the game moving.

The next day, unless my eyes deceived me, Lorenzo once again wanted to exchange bats during a plate appearance (I’m not sure if the one he had was cracked) and this time the home plate umpire—Quinn Wolcott—let him. Quinn Wolcott has not been around as long as Gary Cederstrom (there are people on Mt. Rushmore who haven’t been around as long as Gary Cederstrom) and the young umpire let Cain get away with changing bats.

If I get a chance I’ll ask Lorenzo what the heck was going on.

How you can steal third base with no throw

During the Detroit series Lorenzo Cain—yes, we’re still stuck on him—stole third base without a throw (at least that’s what it says in my notes, so I’m going with it). Here’s why that can happen:

If the hitter at the plate is right-handed and the pitcher is going to throw that righty something off-speed, the third baseman might not want to vacate his position to cover third base. That off-speed pitch might be pulled toward the third baseman’s position. So if a smart base runner steals a sign and realizes the third base man isn’t going to cover the bag, that smart base runner can get an easy stolen base.

Yes, son, they used to steal 100 bases in a season

Since we’re on the subject of stolen bases; while watching a game at home I mentioned Rickey Henderson and how guys used to steal 100 bases and my son Paul asked, "In a single season?"

Yup.

But that was before pitchers started using the slide step to keep runners from ripping them off. Depending on the runner, pitchers who get the ball to home plate in 1.3 seconds or less can stop a lot of would-be base stealers. Guys who throw out of a slide step can get the ball to home plate in as little as 1.2 or 1.1 seconds…some guys can do it in 1.0 flat.

Royals base running coach Rusty Kuntz said he’s gone back to look at the pitchers who were giving up 100 steals in a season and they were taking as much as 1.7 to 1.8 seconds to get the ball to home plate. No wonder guys were stealing bases like it was going out of style—it was. Pitchers decided to do something about it; hence the slide step.

And if you wonder why the Royals aren’t running other teams ragged this season, it’s because other teams have asked their pitchers to deliver the ball to home plate more quickly.

On the other hand, the Royals stolen base threat means those pitchers are throwing more fastballs and that’s at least part of why Kansas City has the second highest team batting average in the big leagues.

If you don’t dive, we don’t know for sure

Friday night the Tigers’ Dixon Machado hit a walk-off single in the twelfth inning. The ball was pulled down the left-field line, Alex Gordon dove for it, but came up a foot or two short.

Gordon’s dive reminded me of something former big league shortstop Tim Bogar once told me: while playing in the minor leagues, Bogie had a similar play, but did not dive for the ball—he could see it was out of reach. His minor league manager pulled him to one side after the game and said from then on Tim needed to dive for those balls: "If you don’t dive, we don’t know for sure."

Even if all it does is reassure fans that the ball was uncatchable, diving for the ball is the right thing to do.

Danny Duffy in relief

After Danny Duffy’s last start, I wrote about his postgame press conference; he sounded vague and a little confused about what went wrong. Here’s what Danny had to say after pitching in relief on Sunday and getting his first save:

"Every time I’ve pitched out of the ‘pen, I feel like I can let it go. I throw everything with more conviction, it seems like. It’s like a subconscious thing. You go out there and empty the tank."

Starting and relieving is not the same: starters have to think about holding something back and getting hitters out three or four times. Relievers can just let it go and in most cases, figure they’re going to see a hitter only once.

I’ve got no idea where Danny will eventually wind up, but some pitchers are more emotionally and mentally suited to relieving than starting. And as Ned Yost says, having Duffy in the bullpen gives them just one more power arm to throw in the later innings.

Rules for a save

After Star beat writer Andy McCullough sent out a Tweet saying Danny Duffy earned his first save, several people felt moved to tell Andy he was wrong—the Royals were ahead by too many runs for Duffy to qualify. Andy then felt moved to point out those people didn’t know what they were talking about—which is pretty shocking for the internet—and posted a link to Baseball Reference and the rules or a save:

  • A relief pitcher is awarded a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:
  • He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
  • He is not the winning pitcher; and
  • He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
    • He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
    • He enters the game, regardless of the score, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat, or on deck; or
    • He pitches for at least three innings. (The word "effectively" has been removed from the MLB rules.)

Under the last condition, the official scorer has some discretion as to whether or not to award a save. This is rule 10.20 of the Major League Rules.

So, yeah, Danny Duffy earned a save.

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