Judging the Royals

How the Royals pitch Derek Jeter

If you’ve followed this website from the beginning you’ve already heard some of this, but that’s OK; it won’t kill you to hear it again—plus, it’s pretty interesting.

Derek Jeter is making his last trip to Kauffman Stadium as a player and lots of people are showing up to see him. If you’re one of them, pay attention and you can sit in the crowd at the K and tell everyone just how the Royals are going to pitch the future Hall of Famer.

The first thing to point out is the Kansas City outfield positioning. Alex Gordon will stay straight up in left, but whoever is playing centerfield and right will shift toward the right field line—that will leave a big gap in left center.

So that’s where the outfielders stand; what do the pitchers do?

They come inside on Jeter and try to jam him. Derek Jeter has an "inside out" swing and the means he tries to hit the inside half of the baseball. That swing will send the baseball toward the right side of the field and that’s where the outfielders are standing. By jamming him with pitches in, the pitchers prevent Jeter from extending his arms. If they get the pitch in on his hands and he hits the ball to the right side of the field it will be a weak grounder or flare and the outfield is ready for that.

So why does the left fielder stay straight up?

Because if the pitchers throw an off-speed pitch and miss their spot—if they hang one—that’s when Jeter will pull the ball and Alex Gordon will be in the right position. If Jeter hits a ball between Gordon and the left field line, you can turn to the person next to you and knowingly say the pitcher hung an off-speed pitch.

So that’s the game plan; how did it work on Saturday night?

First at-bat: Starting pitcher Danny Duffy threw Jeter two fastballs, but didn’t get them in. One was off the plate and one was hittable, but Jeter fouled the hittable pitch off. With the count 1-1 the left-handed Duffy threw a curveball in on the right-handed Jeter, he couldn’t get his arms extended and he hit a weak groundball to short—6-3 in the scorebook.

Second at-bat: Duffy threw three fastballs in and the third one got him; Jeter was trying to hit the ball to the right side, couldn’t extend his arms and hit a groundball to first baseman Eric Hosmer.

Third at-bat: Duffy threw three fastballs, then a curve and on the fifth pitch, left a fastball too far out over the plate. Jeter finally had room to swing the bat and hit a sharp groundball into right field.

Fourth at-bat: By this time Danny Duffy had left the game and Jeter was facing Kelvin Herrera. Kelvin throws harder than God in a bad mood and he alternated inside fastballs with curveballs down and away. With the count 1-2 Herrera threw Jeter a 100-MPH fastball and that did the trick; Jeter struck out swinging.

The first time I had all this explained to me I asked if I could write it; was I giving anything away by telling fans how the Royals planned to pitch Derek Jeter?

I was told not to worry about it; the game was about execution. Hitters generally know how they’re going to be pitched; the real question is whether the pitcher will make a mistake. After all these years Derek Jeter knows exactly how the Royals will pitch him—and now you do, too.

How the Yankees pitch Mike Moustakas

If I counted right—and after a couple post-game beers there’s always a chance I didn’t—in the first two games of the Yankees series Mike Moustakas has seen 27 pitches and only eight of them have been fastballs. (If I’ve got the exact numbers wrong, Moose is still seeing a hell of a lot more off-speed stuff than heat.)

After he finished his post-game press conference Ned Yost and I walked back to the clubhouse together and I asked him what Moose needed to do to get more fastballs. As you might expect the answer was simple:

Hit the off-speed stuff.

Until Mike does damage with curves, sliders, change-ups and cutters, pitcher will just keep throwing him junk. I asked if Moustakas should look to go the other way and Ned said that wasn’t the way Mike swings the bat; he needs to look for off-speed stuff up in the zone and when he gets it, he needs to hit it hard.

Until then, pitchers will try to avoid giving Moustakas hittable fastballs.

Game notes

*Ned also wanted me to know Moustakas bunted on his own in the second inning. Mike came to the plate with runners on first and second and nobody out and tried to move them over by bunting the ball toward third base. Moose got the ball too close to the pitcher’s mound and the lead runner—Salvador Perez—was thrown out by the pitcher.

*To start that second inning both Billy Butler and Alex Gordon got good pitches to hit and didn’t miss them. Then Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain got not-so-good pitches to hit and didn’t miss them either. Perez swung at a 2-1 pitch in off the plate and hit a flare into left and Lorenzo chased a pitch down, but hit it to right.

Come to think of it, Lorenzo had three hits and all them were hit to the right side. When Cain looks to go the other way he can handle some funky stuff on the outer part of the plate. But when he’s in pull-mode, Cain can take some bad-looking hacks on the same pitches.

*Mike Moustakas went 1 for 4 and finished the game hitting .148. He’s scuffled offensively, but Mike deserves credit for not letting bad at-bats affect his defense—he still plays the hell out of third base. Veteran ballplayers will tell you that a player must separate his offense and defense. And hitting well can also be a problem—anything that has you thinking about your last at-bat instead of concentrating on your defense will hurt the way you play.

*Both Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez hit home runs and MLB reporter Dick Kaegel pointed out that the Royals have hit seven home runs in their last 10 games. I don’t know if that’s significant and signals a trend, but I wrote it down anyway. Hosmer got an 0-2 slider in and hit it 427 feet which is about 55 feet more than necessary—it was a no-doubter.

*After Lorenzo Cain hit a triple in the sixth inning, Nori Aoki slapped a ball past the Yankees third baseman, Yangervis Solarte. The Yankees third baseman was playing in on the grass at the time. Remember that when you think about the worth of the bunt; how many hits does a player get because he’s bunted in the past?

*The Aoki hit put the Royals up by four and that shut down the back end of the Royals bullpen. Had the Royals been up by three going into the eighth inning, Wade would have pitched. The Hosmer homer tacked on another run and Kelvin Herrera got the call.

*The Royals beat the Yankees 8-4 and didn’t use Davis or Greg Holland—that’s a plus. That means those guys should be available for at least the next two games of the series.

How one pitch cost the Royals a ballgame

Let’s go back to that Brian McCann double Friday night because it shows how one pitch cost the Royals a ballgame.

It was the third inning, the bases were loaded, there was one out and the game was tied. McCann was at the plate and the Royals outfield was playing him to pull.

Baseball fans hear a lot about situational hitting, but less about situational pitching. It stands to reason that if the hitter is trying to hit the ball in the air, the pitcher wants the ball hit on the ground. If the hitter wants to hit the ball to the right side of the field, the pitcher wants the ball hit to the left side. So with a slow-footed catcher at the plate, the bases loaded and one down; where did Jeremy Guthrie want the ball to be hit?

If you’re thinking a double-play groundball would be nice, pat yourself on the back.

But the pitch Guthrie threw was a fastball up and away; that’s not a double-play pitch. Guthrie’s up and away fastball was hit for the double down the left-field line. Something down in the zone—a sinking fastball will do the trick—is what you see pitchers throw when they want a groundball. A fastball up and away is probably going to be hit in the air and with a runner on third and less than two outs, that turns into a sacrifice fly at the very least.

One mistake and the Royals lost the game; McCann’s bases-loaded double was enough to beat them.