Judging the Royals

Jason Vargas, Salvador Perez and a changeup that wasn’t working

According to Fangraphs, Jason Vargas throws a fastball, a slider, a cutter, a curve and a changeup. So if one of his pitches isn’t working, it seems like Jason’s got some alternatives.

Monday night it looked like Jason Vargas’ changeup wasn’t working.

Alexei Ramirez hit a third-inning home run on a changeup, Dayan Viciedo hit a fourth-inning home run on a changeup and Paul Konerko hit a fifth-inning home run on a changeup. That’s over a thousand feet of home runs on changeups. After I noticed all the home runs had been hit on changeups, I checked the other hits Vargas gave up; four of them were on changeups. When six of the eight hits you give up come on changeups, maybe you need to throw something else.

After the game both Ned Yost and Jason Vargas said the changeups were up in the zone. Some nights that happens—you just don’t have command of a pitch. But when a pitcher doesn’t have a pitch, you’ve got to figure out a way around it. Throw something else, or throw it in a spot where it won’t hurt you. Salvador Perez and Jason Vargas didn’t do that; they continued to throw changeups and paid the price—and so did their team.

White Sox 7, Royals 6.

A slider-speed bat

I wrote this way back on Opening Day when the Royals got beat by an Alex Gonzalez walk-off single. Gonzalez is 37-years-old and the pitch he hit that day was a slider. I’ve been waiting for another older hitter to beat the Royals on an off-speed pitch and the 38-year-old Paul Konerko did that on Monday night.

"He’s got a slider-speed bat." That’s that they say about a guy who can’t get around on a good fastball anymore. Ask if there are any hitters in their late thirties who still have good bat speed and the list is short—heck, there may not be enough old hitters with good bat speed to make anything resembling a list.

That being the case, if a guy is getting older you probably don’t want to give him anything off-speed in the strike zone. You can show it to him, that might keep him from cheating on a fastball, but keep it out of the zone—beat the older hitter with fastballs.

Game notes

First inning: The White Sox outfield played Alcides Escobar well off the left-field line, which tells you they don’t want Esky pulling the ball into the left-field corner for extra bases. When you see that alignment you can figure the hitter will not get anything off-speed for a strike—if he does, it’s probably a mistake. In his first three at-bats Escobar saw one off-speed pitch; a curve—he swung and missed it for strike three.

With runners at first and third Eric Hosmer got a 2-0 fastball in the middle of the plate and doubled, driving in both runs. With Hosmer on second and nobody out, Chicago centerfielder Adam Eaton was playing to the right-field side of second base. Sometimes centerfielders will do that if they think the hitter is going to try to hit the ball to the right side to move the runner on second base over to third.

The hitter was Billy Butler and the pitch he hit was a slider; that meant he pulled a grounder to the left-field side of second and when it got through the infield, Adam Eaton had a long run to get the ball. Eric Hosmer scored easily. Billy moved to second base when Alex Gordon walked and then I thought Butler made a base-running mistake. Shows how much I know—what Billy did got the Royals two more runs.

Here’s what happened:

Adam Eaton is supposed to have a well-above average arm, so when Billy tagged and headed for third after Eaton caught a Salvador Perez fly ball, I thought it was a bad move. The throw beat Billy to third base, but it bounced and Marcus Semien couldn’t handle the short hop. Butler was safe and Alex Gordon moved up as well. So when Lorenzo Cain singled, Billy scored easily from third and Alex went second to home. If Billy hadn’t tagged up, he probably couldn’t have scored from second base on Cain’s single and since that was the last hit of the inning, Butler and Gordon wouldn’t have scored at all.

Fourth inning: Eric Hosmer drove in another run in the fourth inning when he got a fastball down and in and drove it between the right fielder and the right-field line. Moises Sierra was playing off the line and had to run a ways to field the ball and when he picked it up, he was still moving laterally. Lateral movement means a weak throw home and Alcides Escobar scored standing up.

Adam Dunn did his job on the play and saved Chicago a run by doing so. On a throw home from right field, the first baseman goes to the middle of the infield between the mound and the right-field line and prepares to cut the ball off. If the first baseman lets the ball go through to home, he fakes catching the ball and that will freeze the runner at first base. If Hosmer had been able to advance to second on the throw home, he might have scored on the Billy Butler single that followed. And if Eric didn’t score on that, he would have scored on Alex Gordon’s deep fly ball.

But Hosmer couldn’t advance; if he tried, Dunn would cut the ball off and would then have him in a rundown.

Ninth inning: It started well and Nori Aoki’s bunting ability was responsible. The Chicago third baseman was playing in for the bunt and Aoki slapped a single past him. If you never bunt, they never play in. Jarrod Dyson came out to run for him and Alcides Escobar laid down a fairly bad bunt—right back to the pitcher.

But Matt Lindstrom hurt himself coming off the mound and missed the ball. Runners were at first and second and Eric Hosmer, who already had two hits and a walk, came to the plate—unfortunately, Scott Downs came to the mound. Coming into the game Hosmer was 1 for 8 off Downs with three strikeouts. Coming out of the game Hosmer was 1 for 9 with four strikeouts. Jake Petricka was brought in to face Billy Butler and got the second out when he picked Dyson off second base.

Petricka did an inside move which means the pitcher picks up his front foot and spins back toward second base—it oughta be illegal, but it ain’t. Dyson was going and got caught. After that, Butler hit a groundball to second and that was the ballgame.

Why fans should wear dark shirts to a day game

Sunday the Royals gave away white fedoras and I asked some of the players if that made it hard to see the ball.

Well, it didn’t help.

But the promotional giveaways—white fedoras or T-shirts—aren’t the only problem: baseballs are rubbed up with mud before a game and that gives them a brown tinge. The bricks behind home plate are also brown, so if it’s a low line drive the ball can be tough to pick up.

Then there’s the area right behind home plate: lots of glass and silver metal. Center fielders sometimes need to wait for the ball to get above the press box—we’re three floors up from field level—before they get a good look at the ball. If the ball is hit toward one of the gaps the centerfielder will get a better jump because he has a better background when he looks off to the side; dark blue seats.

Once the ball goes above the upper deck seats, the outfielders might struggle to pick the ball up against the corrugated metal overhang (the grounds crew and I had debate about what to call it—awning and roof were in the running, but we went with overhang) but whatever you call it, it’s white. Once again not the best background for seeing a baseball.

And this is all much worse during the day: people tend to wear white or powder blue; it’s too hot to wear a dark color. But if you’re a true fan and you want to see good baseball: wear dark shirts to a day game.

The players would appreciate it.