In Tuesday night’s 9-5 win over the Cleveland Indians, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer had four hits and five RBIs between them. One of those hits by Hosmer traveled 401 feet and gave the Royals a 6-0 lead. The Indians rallied, but never fully recovered from Hosmer’s homer. Great results from the three and four-hole hitters, but it’s still only one game: should Ned Yost change the lineup?
Well if you think I have the answer you’re barking up the wrong tree; but I can tell you what players have to say.
There is a psychological component to the game of baseball. Not everyone with a good ERA is suited to be a closer, not everyone with a good batting average belongs in the three-hole. In a sport where guys won’t change their batting gloves if they’re hitting well, moving from the bottom of the order to the heart of the order is no small thing—some guys can handle it, some guys can’t.
It’s such a mental game already; you move a guy out of the three-hole and he starts pressing even more to get his spot in the order back. You take a player who was hitting great the in six-hole, move him up in the order and he starts pressing to justify being that high in the lineup. Put a hitter in the four-hole and he might think he needs to hit for more power and jack up his swing. Former Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane once told me some players get "nosebleeds" when they get moved up in the order. I asked what the meant and Mac said: "They can’t hit that high."
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It doesn’t mean you never change lineups; if a hitter continues to struggle, sooner or later you have to. But knowing when to make the change isn’t easy—and it’s not as simple as fans might think. Ned Yost has said he’s going to be patient and Tuesday night that patience was rewarded.
You can’t make people happy
Recently, Ned Yost has been accused of being stubborn about changing his lineup, but it wasn’t all that long that he was being accused of not being stubborn enough and tinkering too much. Here’s what Yost had to say back when moved Alex Gordon out of the leadoff spot and then decided to return Gordon to the top of the order:
"We’ve got to try something different. Historically, over the last two years, our best production has come with Alex in the one and Billy (Butler) in the four. So we’re looking at different ways to try to jump-start the offense. We’ll put Alex back in the one. We’ll start there."
If a manager sticks with his lineup he can be accused of being pig-headed and not wanting to look like he’s panicking; if a manager tinkers with his lineup he can be accused of being wishy-washy and inconsistent. Back when Yost was being criticized for too much tinkering, here’s what he said:
"I just think you continue to juggle and massage and move (players around) until we break out of it."
Bottom line: as long as a lineup isn’t producing, a manager is going to get criticized—so he might as well do whatever he wants.
You can’t make people happy.
How Jarrod Dyson’s speed got the Royals three runs
In the third inning with one down and runners on first and second base, Jarrod Dyson hit a groundball to Cleveland’s second baseman, Jason Kipnis. He tried to start a double play by flipping the ball to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, but Cabrera dropped the ball. The initial call was that the Indians got the out at second before the ball was dropped, but Ned Yost challenged and the replay clearly showed Cabrera never controlled the baseball. So why did Asdrubal Cabrera miss a throw that most Little Leaguers could handle?
He’s one of the fastest players in the American League, so Cabrera felt he had to rush to turn two. But that was a mistake: the rule of thumb is to make sure of the first out, then go for the second one. In his haste to get two outs Cabrera got none.
Had Cabrera made sure he caught the ball, the runner coming into second base—Alcides Escobar—would have been out and here would have been runners on first and third with two down. If that were the case, Escobar couldn’t have scored, Omar Infante’s single would have scored one run, Eric Hosmer groundout would have ended the inning and Billy Butler never would have made it to the plate to drive in two more runs.
Jarrod Dyson’s speed got the Royals three runs.
Why base stealers like to go first pitch
There are pitchers who slow down when they’re delivering an 0-0 pitch because they want to make sure they throw a strike. The Indians starting pitcher, Corey Kluber, is one of them.
Pitchers might also slow down their delivery 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-0 and 3-2 counts in an effort to get the ball into the strike zone. If a base runner knows that, he can take advantage and run in one of those counts. If a pitcher has trouble throwing strikes out of a slide step, the runner just has to wait until the pitcher has to throw a strike; he knows the pitcher can’t get the ball to home plate that quickly.
What Rusty Kuntz said to the ball boy
Maybe you’ve already seen the video of the Royals ball boy who mistakenly picked up a live baseball and gave it to a fan. If you saw that maybe you also saw first base coach, Rusty Kuntz call him over in-between innings and talk to him. Tuesday afternoon I asked Rusty what he said.
Here’s what Rusty told me:
Rusty asked the ball boy how he was feeling right then and pointed out that it wasn’t the first time a ball boy had made the mistake of picking up a live baseball. The ball boy said it was the first time it had ever happened to him.
Rusty encouraged the kid to focus on the first-base umpire; he’d let everyone know if the ball was fair or foul. The ball boy said he thought the ball was foul; Rusty informed him that he didn’t get a vote. Ultimately, Rusty had the kid laughing and sent him back to his spot by the right field wall in a much better mood.
I’m guessing that kid was feeling pretty isolated before Rusty called him over; it was a kind and thoughtful thing to do. If you’re not already a Rusty Kuntz fan, you ought to be.