Judging the Royals

Danny Duffy is six and two-thirds perfect; how he did it

After the game I ran into Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland and asked him what he saw out of starting pitcher, Danny Duffy. Dave said Danny kept the ball down and worked both sides of the plate. And when Duffy missed with his off-speed stuff, he missed down out of the zone.

Pitchers who keep the ball down can use the whole plate; pitchers who throw the ball up in the zone have to hit corners. So if everyone in the world knows it’s good to keep the ball down in the zone, why doesn’t every pitcher in the world do it?

Because it ain’t easy.

When a pitcher over-strides or let’s his front half go toward home plate too soon, his back half—the half that has his throwing arm attached to it—has a hard time catching up. That means the pitcher will let go of the ball on an uphill angle, the proper release point is missed and the ball will be up in the zone.

So who over-strides?

Pitchers that are excitable, pitchers that want to throw the ball through the backstop, pitchers who sometimes let their emotions get the better of them. Sound like anyone you know?

Dave Eiland said Danny Duffy separated (took the ball out of the glove) while staying balanced over the rubber—he wasn’t rushing toward home plate, he wasn’t over-striding. That good beginning led to a good finish; Duffy’s back half was on time and he was finishing over his front side and that makes the ball go downhill. And balls that go downhill stay low in the zone. (If you’re thinking this all sounds pretty complicated—good. Next time you’re thinking "why doesn’t this guy just throw strikes?" remember how complicated that simple act can be.)

Eiland said Duffy was repeating his motion and didn’t let one bad pitch turn into two or three. Saturday night Danny Duffy took a big step forward—but he didn’t over-stride while he did it.

Royals 1, Orioles 0.

Game notes

*Alex Gordon made a diving catch to rob Nick Markakis of a hit to start the seventh inning. That’s when Ned Yost and the rest of the Royals start to think maybe a perfect game or no-hitter was a possibility. In the post-game press conference Yost said almost every no-hitter includes a high-light reel play (it’s hard to get 27 routine outs) and they thought Gordon’s play might be the one. After the game Duffy was asked what was working and he said; "My defense."

*After Duffy gave up a single to Adam Jones, he got Chris Davis to end the seventh, then came out to start the eighth. Danny gave up another single to Nelson Cruz and Yost then went to Wade Davis. After the game there was a media crowd around, Duffy and closer Greg Holland, but don’t miss what Davis did: he got the ball to Holland with a lead and dropped his ERA to 1.96 while doing so. When Davis and Holland are on—and they’re on most of the time—the Royals can shorten the game. If teams don’t have a lead after seven innings, they probably never will.

*Andy McCullough is a funny dude, but don’t tell him I said so. (I’m trying to intimidate him, but I don’t think it’s working.) Anyway, we all gathered around Greg Holland and Andy asked him which of his three strikeouts of Adam Jones he liked best.

Just in case you didn’t see the game, Holland only faced Jones once. The first strikeout of Jones came when Holland bounced a pitch off the plate and Jones swung and missed it. Home plate umpire Chris Segal called it a foul ball. Ned Yost came out to argue and Segal said he heard the ball hit the bat, but what he actually heard was the ball hitting home plate. Ned kept arguing and was eventually ejected from the game.

The second strikeout came when Holland painted the bottom of the strike zone with a fastball and didn’t get the call.

Holland struck out Jones for the third and final time with a slider; a pitch that catcher Brett Hayes had to block. All the pitchers were outstanding, but don’t forget Hayes. He gave Salvador Perez the day off, caught a great game by Duffy, Davis and Holland and blocked several pitches in the dirt with the tying run on third base in the ninth inning.

*With two outs in the ninth and runners at first and third, Greg Holland was facing left-handed hitter, Chris Davis. Holland said he had a game plan in mind, but didn’t execute it. When Holland fell behind Davis he wasn’t going to give him a cookie (a hittable fastball) and wound up walking him. That pushed the winning run into scoring position, but Holland finished the game by striking out the right-handed Nelson Cruz.

*And you might also want to remember what the Royals offense did: not a hell of a lot—one run on four hits. Swinging at the first strike you see isn’t always a bad idea; if the guy on the mound is a top-of-the-line pitcher, you may only get one pitch to hit. If there’s a runner in scoring position, there’s not much to wait for. And if you get a hit swinging at the first strike, people will praise you for your aggressive; make an out and they’ll tell you to be more patient. For whatever it’s worth—if I counted right—Royals hitters swung at the first strike they saw 18 times.

A reader’s question about Salvador Perez

After I wrote about Nelson Cruz seeing 18 pitches from the on-deck circle or batter’s box before he hit a home run on Thursday night and wrote that 17 of those pitches were fastballs, a reader left this comment:

How much of the pitch selection is Perez's "fault" for throwing 18 of 19 fastballs to Davis & Cruz? I know that the catcher calls the game and the pitcher needs to trust him, especially a rookie pitcher. Even with a potential 100-mph fastball in your pocket, which I would want to throw that a lot, wouldn't you want to use your other pitches to make that 100-mph pitch even better? I also understand that you don't want to show everything in the first few innings so that you can save a pitch for later - if a batter hasn't seen your curve or slider until the 4th or 5th inning, it'll be much harder to expect it and hit it. But, when there are 2 power hitters in a row, wouldn't you want to change it up for at least the 2nd at-bat and beyond, especially with a fastball?

In my opinion, Perez needs to understand that concept, at least to a degree. I've noticed that he tends to stick with calling one pitch a lot of times in a row, and I don't always understand why, especially when it's not a slider or other hard-breaking pitch. You write a lot about how hitters are so good that they can time a pitch, no matter how fast it is, after seeing it 2 or 3 times in a row. When you see 18 or 19 of the same pitch at very similar speeds, it would be that much easier to time that pitch.

Just a few thoughts, curious as to what your opinion is and if anyone with the organization (Perez, Yost, pitchers, etc.) has said anything about that.

If you keep up this web site daily you now know Yordano Ventura didn’t have the feel for his curve or change for the first four innings of that game and didn’t want to throw them. Dave Eiland was telling Ventura he had to keep mixing them in until he had the feel; he couldn’t throw all fastballs.

So how about Salvador Perez?

Apparently Sal was calling for off-speed pitches and Ventura was shaking them off. If a catcher calls for a pitch and the pitcher shakes it off, the catcher can always signal for the same pitch—that tells the pitcher the catcher really thinks this is the right pitch. If the pitcher shakes off again the catcher can always go to the mound and talk to him. But if the catcher never fights for his pitch, if every time the pitcher shakes him off he switches to another sign, the catcher is letting the pitcher call the game.

If you’re watching on TV and they give you that centerfield angle, pay attention: if the catcher drops a sign and the pitcher shakes, focus on what the catcher does next. If it’s a future Hall of Famer, maybe the catcher should defer to the pitcher, if it’s a young guy, maybe the catcher should argue for his pitch.

I’ve been running excerpts from the Jason Kendall book "Throwback" and here’s one that seems appropriate:

When the game plan goes out the window

You go over the lineup and decide you’re going to throw a slider in a certain situation, then the game starts and the pitcher doesn’t have that slider—this happens a lot. That’s the beauty of catching: you gotta say, OK, his slider’s not working; now we really have to mix things up. That’s actually fun. It’s more of a challenge, but you can actually use the fact that your guy’s slider isn’t working to your advantage.

The hitters are now looking for a pitch that the pitcher doesn’t have. They keep looking for that slider in certain situations and they’re not getting it; you’re changing the scouting reports. Scouts are everywhere—they’re at every game. They’ve told the hitters what to expect. Every player knows how they’re going to be pitched. So you use the fact that the slider has been shitcanned against the hitters. They’re looking for a pitch that the pitcher isn’t going to throw.

And sometimes the pitcher doesn’t know he doesn’t have his slider: he thinks it’s fine and you’re the one that has to go to the mound and tell him it sucks. You go to the mound, tell the pitcher the slider’s not working and ask him to trust you: you’ll walk him through it. You try to get the starter through five innings, then get him the hell out of the game.

It’s a mind game every night.

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