Judging the Royals

Should Jonathan Papelbon have choked Bryce Harper?

Washington’s Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon fought in the dugout in the eighth inning Sunday.
Washington’s Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon fought in the dugout in the eighth inning Sunday. The Washington Post via AP

I don’t know Bryce Harper from Adam, but he certainly seems like a young man who needs an attitude adjustment. Unfortunately he was choked by the wrong guy in the wrong place.

In baseball culture, pitchers — especially relievers — do not get to criticize position players for lack of hustle. Guys like Jonathan Papelbon play every once in a while, guys like Bryce Harper play all the time. So if you spend a fair amount of time sitting in the shade eating popsicles, you don’t get to criticize position players for failing to run out a fly ball.

The second problem was location: if you want to choke Bryce Harper — and I suspect if you played with him, you might — ask him to come up the tunnel and then choke him. You don’t do it in the dugout for everyone in the world to see; you keep that stuff private.

So you can blame either guy for what happened, but you should probably blame both.

If Chris Young pitched well, so did Kyle Hendricks

On Sunday afternoon, Royals pitcher Chris Young pitched five innings of no-hit baseball and I’m pretty sure most Royals fans thought that was a marvelous pitching performance. On Monday night, Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks pitched six innings of two-hit baseball and if social media is any indication — and let’s pray to God it isn’t — Royals fans thought that was a lousy hitting performance.

So when a Royals pitcher does well that’s good pitching, but when an opposition pitcher does well that’s lousy hitting … got it.

As I might have mentioned before, sports fans tend to view everything through the prism of their own team; good performances happen because their team is good, bad performances happen because their team is bad. Good or bad performances by the other team rarely seem to be a factor. But other teams and other pitchers are allowed to play and pitch well. And when that happens your team isn’t going to look so hot.

Monday night, the Cubs played and pitched well and the Royals didn’t look so hot.

What’s happened to the Royals running game?

Spend time talking to Royals baserunning coach Rusty Kuntz and the answer is very simple: other teams have taken steps to stop the Royals from stealing bases. Pitchers are delivering the ball to home plate more quickly and throwing more fastballs to give their catchers a better shot at throwing at Kansas City baserunners.

But throwing pitches out of a slide step can tend to make the pitch stay up in the zone and hitters want to hit belt-high fastballs, so the steps the opposition pitchers are taking to stop the Kansas City basestealers, also help the Kansas City hitters. Among all big-league teams, the Royals are second in team batting average.

So whether the Royals steal bases or not, the threat of the stolen base is still having a positive effect.

Why you can’t trust base-stealing numbers

According to an ESPN website (and that’s how you find a way to blame someone else if your facts are wrong) the Royals have stolen 100 bases in 134 attempts. But some of those “caught stealing” numbers were not attempts to steal bases.

When there’s a runner on first base, less than two outs and the count goes 3-2 on a hitter, it’s not uncommon for managers to put the runner on first base in motion. That might keep the team out of a double play and give the runner a better chance of taking an extra base — unless the hitter strikes out.

If the runner on first were a true stolen base threat, he probably would have already swiped second. So runners in motion are often guys who can’t steal a base and when the hitter strikes out and that slow runner is thrown out, it goes in the scorebook as a caught stealing — even if the runner wasn’t really trying to steal a base.

Why you don’t use your closer in a tie game on the road

Let’s say the score is tied up going into the ninth inning of a home game. If the home manager uses his closer in the top of the ninth, he might not need any more pitching; score in the bottom of the ninth and the game’s over. And even if you don’t score in the bottom of the ninth inning, no matter what the other team does in the top of the 10th, you’re absolutely guaranteed to get another shot at winning in the bottom of the 10th.

So using a closer in a tie game at home gives you two shots to win a ball game.

But use your closer in a tie game on the road and no matter what you’re closer does, you’ll still need more pitching to win the game. So if you were wondering why Ned Yost didn’t use Wade Davis on Monday night — and apparently some fans were — if Wade had pitched a scoreless bottom of the eleventh, someone would still have had to get three outs in the bottom of the twelfth.

So if Miguel Almonte is going to give up a walk-off homer, you want him to do it before you waste an inning from your closer.

Miguel Almonte gives it up on a first-pitch fastball

If I’m a hitter in the big leagues (I’d say stranger things have happened, but they really haven’t) and I’m facing a rookie pitcher who throws a fastball in the upper nineties, I’m going to look for that fastball; especially on the first pitch. The kid will want to get ahead in the count and a fastball will give him the best chance of doing so.

Cubs pinch hitter Chris Denorfia got a first-pitch fastball from Miguel Almonte and drove it out of the park for a walk off homer. Besides being a fastball the hitter was probably looking for, the other problem with the pitch was location.

Get into extra innings and hitters are looking to pull a ball for a game-ending home run. Catcher Salvador Perez set up down and away, but Almonte missed up and over the plate. Get to extra innings and you don’t want to give hitters pullable pitches; make them beat you with three singles the other way.

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