It’s 7:20 on a Saturday morning and I’m still pretty bleary after a Friday night. I feel like I’m coming down with something and I’ve yet to finish rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. What I’m trying to say is I’m pretty sure you could set off an air-raid siren six inches from my right ear and about five minutes later I’d notice.
Chris Young pitched 6 1/3 innings Friday while giving up only four hits and one run. If he threw a fastball over 87 mph, I missed it — and so did the Minnesota Twins. So how does a guy whose fastball tops out in the upper 80s do what Chris Young did Friday night?
He pitched ahead in the count.
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So — 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 (if you have the green light) and 3-1 are considered hitter’s counts. The hitter is ahead in the count and can be selective. If the pitcher makes a great pitch, the hitter can spit on it and wait for something better. But 3-2 is not a hitter’s count because the hitter has to protect the plate and swing at anything close.
According to my count — and I’ve counted three time so far and I’m still not sure I didn’t miss something — Chris Young found himself in a hitter’s count three times in the first six innings. Twice he made a good pitch, and the count went 2-2. Chris faced 25 batters, and only one of them put a ball in play while in a hitter’s count and that ball was a fly out.
The Twins spent most of Friday night’s game hitting in pitcher’s counts. That means they were behind in the count and having to swing at borderline pitches, the pitches Chris Young wanted them to chase.
If you pay attention, there’s not much mystery to what’s going on. Chris Young was throwing strikes and using what smart pitchers who don’t throw real hard use: location and movement.
If you don’t know what you’re looking at, you need a number
A while back Chris and I had a conversation about velocity and why people are obsessed with it. In Young’s opinion it’s because velocity is easy to understand — it’s right there on the scoreboard.
And that reminds me of a true story about scout school — the names have been changed to protect the guilty. (Actually, I’m not going to use any names; I just liked the way that sounded.)
Guys go to scout school to learn to become scouts (I guess you probably could’ve figured that out on your own, but you never know.) Anyway, three scout school students were sent to watch a minor-leaguer’s side session and then rate what they’d seen. Two of the student scouts had a metrics background; one was a former major-league player.
The minor-leaguer threw and was hitting 96 mph on the radar gun. The two guys with metrics background rated him highly. The former big-leaguer didn’t. When asked why, the ex-player said the pitcher was not throwing his secondary pitches for strikes and that 96 mph fastball was straight as a string — this kid would get lit up at the big-league level.
Like I said at the beginning: if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you need a number.
There was no umpire at the minor-league pitcher’s side session; if there were, maybe the two guys without playing experience would have noticed the kid couldn’t throw strikes with his off-speed stuff.
Most of us — including me — can’t spot a fastball’s movement while sitting in the stands at a baseball game, but if we pay attention we can see it on TV. And if that’s not enough, look at the scoreboard and pay attention to the count.
And Friday night, Chris Young spent a whole lot of time pitching ahead in the count.
Hosmer’s glove, pitchers starting double plays and a few other points of interest
▪ In the seventh inning Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer combined on a terrific play to get Torii Hunter. Moose’s throw bounced to first base, but Hosmer scooped it. I tweeted that Hosmer made the rest of the Royals infield better and someone responded that sabermetrics disagrees — but that gets us back to needing a number to understand. I’ve watched Hosmer play nearly every big-league game he ever has played, and night after night he saves teammate’s errors with scoops, wingspan and excellent footwork.
Hosmer not only keeps balls from going in the dugout, he allows teammates to attempt plays they wouldn’t even think about with a lesser first baseman over there.
▪ The Royals got out of two late-inning sticky situations with two double plays started by pitchers. After the game Ned Yost said a good first throw is the keys to those plays. Here’s what he meant: pitchers are going back up the pitcher’s mound when they throw to second base — it’s fairly easy to launch that throw into center field, so pitchers need to make sure they keep the ball down.
▪ Ryan Madson faced Miguel Sano with the game on the line in the eighth inning and the veteran pitcher refused to give the rookie hitter a fastball. Sano saw two sliders and three changeups and struck out swinging.
This is how veteran pitchers pitch and the Royals are going to see a lot of the same thing in the playoffs. If Royals hitters get in pull mode, smart pitchers will make them look bad with soft stuff.
Yordano Ventura starts Saturday afternoon. As always; look for him to hit the mitt with his fastball and pay attention to his curve and change—how soon does he introduce those pitches and when he does throw them, are they strikes?
Enjoy the game.