Judging the Royals

Adam Dunn crushes an Aaron Crow fastball

"My favorite word in English is 'youneverknow.' "

According to the internet, Joaquin Andujar said that and we all know the internet never lies. (Hot women are waiting for our phone calls—I’m sure of it.) The reason I bring this up is because of what happened in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s game.

Aaron Crow came in to pitch the eighth inning of a 4-2 game. The Royals hadn’t done a lot offensively at that point—two runs on five hits—but youneverknow. Aaron gave up a singles to Gordon Beckham and Conor Gillaspie, got a fly ball out and then faced Adam Dunn; the gigantic Chicago first baseman who was born to play Lennie in "Of Mice and Men."

But instead of crushing a puppy, Dunn crushed a fastball.

A 93 MPH two-seamer, thrown right down the middle. Dunn hit the ball over 420 feet, Lorenzo Cain and the centerfield wall. The score went from 4-2 to 7-2 and at that point, it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference--the Royals were already losing late--but youneverknow. You play the game right all the time because you never know when you’re going to make a comeback and that fastball you served up in the eighth inning will prove to be the margin of victory in the ninth. And that’s exactly what happened.

The White Sox beat the Royals, 7-6.

Would Salvador Perez have made a difference?

In the fifth inning starting pitcher Yordano Ventura gave up a 2-1 lead and a Tyler Flowers home run on a hanging curve—the Chicago catcher hit the ball 411 feet. Fair enough, he earned it.

But then Chicago scored two more runs that they didn’t earn. With one out Adam Eaton doubled and a wild pitch allowed Eaton to move to third. The runner on third brought the infield in and Gordon Beckham hit the ball over Danny Valencia’s head—a ball that would have been caught if the infield had been playing back.

A second wild pitch let Beckham take second. The Chicago second baseman took third when Conor Gillaspie hit the ball to first baseman Eric Hosmer and then Beckham scored on the third wild pitch of the inning—so no wild pitches, no runs score. Brett Hayed was filling in for Perez while Sal rested a bruised hand; would Salvador Perez behind the plate have made a difference?

On the first wild pitch, probably not; Ventura spiked a curve well out in front of home plate and the ball came up so high it hit Hayes in the shoulder. The second wild pitch appeared to be a passed ball—a fastball that never hit the ground before going off Hayes’ mitt—and the third wild pitch was another curve in the dirt. Hayes appeared to do everything right, but the ball still got away from him.

Bottom line: I don’t know if Perez would have made a difference—Ventura was bouncing the ball well out in front of home plate. But you can’t afford to give up two runs that the other team didn’t earn; especially when you lose by one.

How the Royals gave up their first run

Everyone is looking for patterns and the first guy to recognize one has an advantage. In the first inning catcher Brett Hayes and pitcher Yordano Ventura started every hitter with a fastball. With two down and a runner on third, Dayan Viciedo jumped on that first-pitch fastball, singled and drove the run in.

But it’s also worth noting how that run got on third: left-handed Conor Gillaspie was at the plate and right fielder Nori Aoki was playing straight up—in line with second and third base. That left a lot of room between him and the foul line. Ventura was blowing gas in the upper nineties, so the odds of Gillaspie pulling a fastball down the line weren’t great, but he pulled a changeup.

A Yordano Ventura changeup is 88 miles-an-hour, but still slow enough for Gillaspie to poke it down into the right-field corner, which meant Aoki had a long run to the ball. Leaving a changeup up in the zone meant the ball was hit to an unprotected part of the field. The Royals paid with one run.

Why you should look for similar hitters

Pitchers and catchers do not have nine game plans for nine hitters; they tend to pitch similar hitters in similar ways. Chicago’s starting pitcher, Andre Rienzo—who clearly ought to be driving on the Grand Prix circuit, he’s got the right name—threw right-handed Billy Butler cutter after cutter down and away. A cutter is halfway between a fastball and a slider and Rienzo’s was clocked in the upper eighties.

If Rienzo hit his spot—down and away—the Royals right-handed hitters would have to hit the ball to the opposite field to have any chance. Pull that down and away slider and you’re going to hit an easy rollover grounder to the left side of the field.

So if right-handed Lorenzo Cain was paying attention he might assume he’d be seeing cutters down and away. Here’s exactly what he saw: curveball, cutter, cutter, fastball, curveball, cutter. But instead of trying to hit the ball to right field, Lorenzo was trying to pull the ball. He missed the last cutter by a large margin.

Danny Valencia, on the other hand, was more succesful because he took a cutter the other way. He saw a curveball and another cutter and drove the second cutter to the opposite field for a two-run double.

The Mike Moustakas pinch-hit

When Mike Moustakas first came to the big leagues I told him he was lucky because he’d never know if people were booing him; boo and Moose sound pretty much the same.

When Mike came out to pinch hit in the eighth inning the crowd went off and nobody could tell if they were booing Mike or encouraging him. The score was 7-5, two runners were on and Brett Hayes was due up. Brett has not had a hit this year—he was 0 for 19 coming into this at-bat—so Ned Yost went to his bench and the cupboard was bare.

If Yost wasn’t going to let Hayes hit, he had to choose between Moose (a guy who might run into one and give the Royals a lead), Jarrod Dyson (who doesn’t have much power), Francisco Pena (a catcher who has yet to have a major league at-bat) and Salvador Perez (who is sitting out to rest a bruised hand). Moustakas got to two strikes and chased a fastball that was up out of the zone. That resulted in a pop up to third base.

When should Jarrod Dyson steal?

Down 7-5 the Royals staged a two-out rally in the ninth inning; Billy Butler doubled, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on an Alex Gordon single. Then Jarrod Dyson came out to pinch run for Gordon.

When Dyson is used as a pinch runner late in a game, the PA announcer might as well say: "Now stealing, Jarrod Dyson." Everybody knows he’s going to run. But that’s one definition of a true base stealer: a guy who can still swipe a bag when everybody knows he’s going to.

And most of the time Dyson has to swipe that bag quickly.

With two outs, if he hangs first base too long, Jarrod might waste a hit and only go first to third, not second to home. With one out he wants to be on third when the ball is put in play. But if Dyson goes on the first pitch every time, that knowledge will get around; pitchers will attempt pickoffs and managers will try pitchouts--wchich is what they’re doing now. For the stolen base to do any good, Dyson’s got to get on the move quickly. A hitter might take one strike to let Dyson steal a base, but taking two is not advisable. When Jarrod Dyson comes out to pinch run, look for him to steal in the first three pitches.

Tuesday night Jarrod took off right away, but it did no good; after an instant replay review that confirmed he stole second base and moved the tying run into scoring position, Lorenzo Cain ended the game by striking out on three pitches.

Today’s "Throwback" excerpt:

Borderline pitches

If you do get a pitch on the black, you might move a little farther off the plate, just to see what the umpire will give you: how far will he go? Strike zones have changed a lot because of the technology involved. Umpires are now getting monitored on balls and strikes. They’ve got umpire supervisors at the games. But as a catcher, you go as far as you can: you gave me that pitch I’m going to move a little farther out and see if I can get this one. The hitter won’t like it. He’ll talk to the umpire too: "Where was that pitch? Are you kidding me, Bob? That ball’s out."

After that, I’m going farther out because Bob is now starting to get pissed at the hitter. I can be off the plate, but if the pitcher hits the glove? It’s a strike. If the hitter and the umpire start bitching at each other, I set up farther outside the zone. If the ball hits my glove, whether it’s in the zone or off the plate, I’m getting that call.

It doesn’t really matter if the umpire is calling strikes off the plate as long as he’s being fair to both teams: if he calls it both ways—then it is what it is. But if the hitter talks shit, you keep moving out: farther and farther. A lot of the older players will start complaining: "Are kidding me? What the hell is going on?"

If I’m behind the plate, I’ll just say: "Hey, keep calling that shit, Bob, it’s perfect."

Throwback book signing

Jason Kendall and I will be at the Leawood Barnes & Noble this coming Thursday Night, May 22nd at 7 PM to discuss and sign our new book "Throwback." The address is 4751 W. 117th St., Leawood, KS and it’s located in the Town Center Plaza—see you there.