Judging the Royals

How Nori Aoki’s two-strike bunt started the winning rally

Nori Aoki is a very good bunter so when he comes to the plate, the other team has their third baseman play in on the grass—until Nori has two strikes. Just in case any reader doesn’t know; bunt the ball foul with two strikes and you’re out. So once Aoki gets into a two-strike count, the third baseman can back up to give himself better range. In the bottom of the eighth inning with one out and score tied, that’s just what Chicago White Sox third baseman, Conor Gillaspie, did.

But Royals coaches Pedro Grifol and Rusty Kuntz have been telling Nori he’s a good enough bunter to lay one down with two strikes. And with Conor Gillaspie playing back, that’s just what Nori Aoki did and it resulted in a single. With one down, the go-ahead run was now on first base.

If a player swings at the first pitch and makes an out, we can all blame him for being impatient. If a player swings at the first pitch and gets a hit, we can all praise his aggressiveness. In this case we get to praise Alcides Escobar’s aggressiveness. Esky swung at a first-pitch fastball and doubled; the go ahead run was now on third base.

The White Sox started left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana and he was still in the game. Left-handed Eric Hosmer came to the plate with first base open and Chicago manager Robin Ventura had Quintana walk Hosmer. Coming into the at-bat Eric had faced Quintana 24 times and had only two hits; Hosmer also had seven strikeouts.

Nevertheless, Robin Ventura opted to intentionally walk Hosmer and bring in righty Jake Petricka to pitch to Billy Butler with one down and the bases loaded. Ventura had his infield back so if they got a groundball, the White Sox weren’t going to throw the ball to home plate; the White Sox were betting on a double play.

If you’re betting the game on a double play you can bet the pitcher throws a sinker and Petricka has a good one. The first sinker to Butler was down and in; if a right-handed hitter puts that ball in play, it’s probably a 5-4-3 double play—but Butler fouled it off.

After the game I asked Billy what he was thinking at that point and it was simple: make Petricka get the ball up. That’s what led to the second swing; the ball was up, but off the plate and Billy swung anyway. He got lucky and fouled that pitch off as well. Billy said that swing was a mistake and when he’s hitting well, he would probably take that pitch. Butler got a third sinker for a ball and then—on the fourth pitch—got the one he’d been waiting for; a ball up and out over the plate. Billy drove the ball to right field and Nori Aoki tagged up and scored.

The Royals took a 2-1 lead, then added an insurance run (more on that momentarily) and wound up beating the White Sox, 3-1.

And it all started with a two-strike bunt.

That insurance run

Take a one-run lead late in the game, tack on one more and that second run is known as an insurance run. After Billy Butler hit that sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run, Alex Gordon walked to reload the bases. Then Danny Valencia worked a bases-loaded walk to make the score 3-1 and provide the Royals with a two-run lead. In the book "Throwback" Jason Kendall describes what an insurance run means. Here’s that excerpt:

The insurance run

Say your team is up by one run going into the eighth inning and adds a run so you’re up by two going into the ninth. That insurance run is huge. The closer can go right after people. He doesn’t have to worry about a long ball tying up the game. Give up a homer and he still has a one-run lead. Closers don’t care about giving up a home run as long as they get the save. They just want to open the paper the next morning and see an "S" next to their name.

The insurance run also helps your defense. It means they don’t have to guard the lines to keep a ball from going down into the corners and turning into extra bases. That means the corners can play back, off the lines and cover more ground. It means the first baseman doesn’t have to hold a runner. It means the pitcher doesn’t have to mess around with slide steps or change his pitch selection to get the ball in the catcher’s hands more quickly. It means the defense doesn’t have to worry about the bunt; the other team won’t play for one run in the ninth when they need two runs to tie.

The insurance run means the defense can concentrate on the hitter—at least until the tying run comes to the plate.

How you can get the job done and still suffer statistically

With the winning run on third base Billy Butler got the job done; he hit a sacrifice fly which scored the go-ahead run—and his batting average with runners in scoring position did not go up. If Billy had hit a groundball and scored the run—but made an out while doing so—his batting average with runners in scoring position would have gone down. A hitter can do a great job of situational hitting and still suffer statistically.

Jeremy Guthrie also had something to do with it

Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie threw seven innings, gave up three hits and only one run, but did not get the win. Guthrie also gave up two walks, both to Adam Dunn. I’ve gotten a little more aware of how often major league pitchers work around certain hitters, so I asked Guthrie if he fell behind in the count, did he plan to work around Dunn?

Jeremy said after seeing what Dunn did the night before—Adam won the game when he crushed a fastball off Aaron Crow—Guthrie wasn’t going to give Dunn the chance to do the same to him.

Dunn walked three times total, but wound up doing no damage. When you look at a pitcher’s walk totals, ask yourself how many those walks were semi-intentional. All walks are not created equal.

How to shorten the game to seven innings

Wade Davis (1.77 ERA) and Greg Holland (2.04 ERA) have been dealing and that allows the Royals to shorten the game to seven innings. In other words; if an opponent doesn’t have a lead after seven innings, they may never have one.

The Royals have Thursday off and that meant Ned Yost could bring in Davis when the game was still tied and not worry about losing him to over-use at some point over the weekend.

That Dyson pickoff was even worse than you thought

Go back to Monday night’s game when Jarrod Dyson got picked off second base in the ninth inning—it was even worse than you thought.

Dyson broke for third, but was caught between bases when Chicago pitcher Jake Petricka picked him off. While Dyson scrambled between second and third, the runner on first—Alcides Escobar—moved up to second base. Dyson made it back to second and the Royals had two runner on one base; about one runner too many.

Dyson was tagged, but Escobar wasn’t. Dyson—the lead runner—had a right to the bag. If Escobar had been tagged, he would have been out. But Dyson made a mistake: he left the bag. Bad move for two reasons: because Dyson is faster than Escobar and you’d rather have Dyson in scoring position and Escobar in the dugout and because when Dyson left the bag he moved past Escobar. Had the umpires been locked in, Escobar would have then been out for passing the lead runner. If Esky had been called out for that infraction, then Dyson was tagged while off the bag; that would have been the third out of the inning.

If the umpires had gotten the call right the game would have ended on double play at second base.

Barnes & Noble book signing

May 22nd, this Wednesday night, 7 PM, Leawood Barnes & Noble in the Town Center Plaza at 4751 117th St.. Jason Kendall and I will be answering question and discussing our book "Throwback" and signing books afterwards.

We hope to see you there.