Judging the Royals

Random pieces of information that baseball fans might enjoy

I got an unexpected night off on Monday; rain postponed the Yankees-Royals game until August 25th. I checked my notes to see what I could post and found nuggets of information that never made it onto the web. I thought these things were interesting enough to save, but never found a way to use them—until now.

Random pieces of information that baseball fans might enjoy

*Every player is combination of strengths and limitations. Every player has pluses and minuses. If you look at a player’s numbers and wonder how he sticks in the big leagues, he probably doesn’t have a lot of faults, either. A guy with less-than-impressive offensive numbers probably survives because he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes: if you don’t have as many minuses, you can afford fewer pluses. A guy like Manny Ramirez needs to hit the hell out of the ball.

*In Terry Francona’s book he told a story about Manny Ramirez being accused of stealing signs. Francona defended Ramirez by saying Manny didn’t know his own team’s signs, there wasn’t much chance he’d be stealing signs from another team. Players like Jamey Carroll survived by being smart, players like Manny Ramirez survived by putting up numbers.

*Umpires can actually start a bean ball war by trying to stop one. A guy gets hit by a pitch and if the umpires issue warnings—if they don’t let the other pitcher retaliate—that retaliation can come the next day and things mushroom from there. If one guy gets drilled and the umpires allow retaliation, then issue warnings that can end things right there.

*Sometimes the difference in teams is the bottom third of the lineup. If the other team has legit hitters in the 7-8 and 9-holes and your team’s bottom third sucks, the other guys get a chance to score in nine innings, you have to do it in six.

*First base coaches become connoisseurs of the balk move. Pitchers—at least the smart ones—develop moves that allow them to deceive a runner, but avoid a balk call from an umpire. They can "bounce" out of the set position: they never come to a complete stop, just reach the set position and bounce right out of it. They can bend the front knee right before a pickoff attempt—if a runner is watching the pitcher’s heels and the front knee bends, it appears the front foot is coming off the ground and if the front foot is coming off the ground the pitcher is probably going home.

Here’s the latest balk move: the rules say a pitcher has to reach a complete stop, but some guy stop their feet, but keep their hands moving. If the umpire is focused on the pitcher’s feet he won’t see the balk.

First base coaches have to keep up on the pitcher’s balk moves because they have to spot them and argue for the call. "That move didn’t look right" is a less effective argument than something specific. If you can dissect the balk move a first base coach might convince an umpire.

*The other day Alcides Escobar laid a tag on a base stealer, originally had the guy, but then the ball got knocked out by the runner’s knee. That’s why you see infielders drop the glove, make the tag and then immediately lift the glove back up: they got the guy and don’t want to give the runner a chance to knock the ball away. If an infielder keeps the tag on a runner he’s probably safe, the infielder is hoping the runner over-slides the base.

*Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz says outfield positioning can change three to five steps in when it’s cold and three to five steps back when it’s hot, but the wind is more important than the temperature. If it’s cold and blowing out, you might want to stay in your normal position; the two conditions are cancelling each other out—same thing if it’s hot and the wind is blowing in.

*Too many times a hitter will come to the plate with the multiple runners on base and try to drive in all the runs instead of just one. You see a lot of big hacks with the bases loaded when a fly ball to the outfield or a single up the middle will do the trick. Continually take the easy RBI and might you look up at the scoreboard at the end of the season and have 100 of them.

*Luke Hochevar says he’ll be able to throw a baseball in September and it’s been weird to go this long without throwing one, but the long layoff will give him a chance to clean up his mechanics—he’ll have to start all over again. He also said he’s been pitching with a bad elbow for four years and he’s excited to see what it feels like to throw with a healthy arm.

*Ned Yost said that Greg Maddux never worried too much about base runners; they could steal second if they wanted to, but they still weren’t going to score. I asked if more pitchers should take that attitude—just concentrate on getting the guy at the plate—and Ned said, no, that attitude was reserved for Hall of Famers. Everybody else better work on stopping the running game.

Every day a manager gets a report about who’s available in his bullpen and who might need a night off. Some guys can throw two days in a row and then need a rest, with other guys it’s three. Warming up, but not coming in the game also gets taken into account. Fans can do the math and have an idea of who’s available, but we won’t know for sure; if a guy’s get a tender elbow, we’re not going to hear about it because information like that would be useful to the other team.

Say you’ve got a left-handed reliever who needs a night off because he’s got a health issue, but the other team doesn’t know that. The game reaches a point where the other team might pinch hit a lefty off the bench, so you have your left-handed reliever get up and move around the bullpen, maybe even stretch or play catch. You can keep their left-handed pinch hitter out of the game with a pitcher who isn’t able to throw.

How pitchers hang a curveball and get away with it

Before last Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Billy Butler told me to watch Michael Wacha and his get-me-over curve. The get-me-over curve is one thrown for a strike, has less break and that makes it easier to control. The chase curveball starts in the zone, then drops out of it, has more break, but it’s also harder to control. So if the get-me-over curve doesn’t have as much break to it, why don’t hitters knock the hell out of it?

Because they don’t swing.

The get-me-over breaking pitch is thrown when the hitter is looking for a fastball; often on the first pitch of an at-bat. Hitters are geared up for heat, realize their timing’s off and shut their swings down. The pitcher is 0-1 and now has two chances to throw a perfect pitch and move the count to 1-2.

If the pitcher misses both times and the count’s 2-1, the get-me-over breaking pitch might be thrown again; 2-1 is a fastball count and pitchers can use that against the hitter. If the pitcher thinks the hitter is once again looking fastball, something off-speed might produce a swing-and-miss or get the hitter to shut things down altogether.

But throw that get-me-over breaking pitch with two strikes and it might get hammered. With two strikes most hitters are trying to wait longer and they’ll swing at whatever’s in the zone. With two strikes, that’s when you see the best breaking pitch the guy on the mound has in his arsenal—that’s when you see a chase pitch.

So if you see a hitter take what looks like a hittable breaking pitch and you wonder why it wasn’t hit, check the count. It was probably a get-me-over pitch thrown in a fastball count.