Pitching coach Dave Eiland wants the Kansas City Royals pitching staff to lead the league in at least one category: hit batters.
It’s not so much that Dave wants to see opposing batters get drilled; Dave wants to see the Royals pitchers pitch inside.
He wants them to come inside off the plate, brush the hitters back and that will open up the outside corner. And if the Royals pitchers do that, some batters will get hit.
Big league pitchers have to pitch inside. If they don’t, hitters will stand right on top of the plate or stand off the plate and dive to the outside corner. With the batter on top of the plate, if a pitcher is afraid of hitting a batter, the inner third of the plate is gone. Then the pitch on the outside corner is actually down the middle and any pitch further away is a ball.
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It’s a fight for territory; you have to pitch inside or hitters will control the entire plate.
After Yordano Ventura got everyone upset with a variety of mound antics, he quit pitching inside for a while.
Yordano was afraid he’d hit somebody and set off another round of criticism. And because Yordano wasn’t pitching inside, Yordano’s pitching suffered.
On May 25 of 2015 the Royals were in New York playing the Yankees.
The Yankees left-handed hitters stood on top of the plate, made the outside corner the middle of the plate and took aim at Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch. That day the Bronx Bombers lived up to their nickname. They hit five home runs and won 14-1.
When the Royals went to Toronto in late July the Blue Jays tried the same thing. They got on top of the plate and complained to the umpire every time a Royals pitch came inside.
If the Jays could get a warning issued, the Royals pitchers would be more likely to pitch away and then the Jays would jump on those pitches. Toronto wanted to force Royals pitchers to pitch out over the plate.
In Game 1 of that Toronto series, Danny Duffy gave up three home runs. In Game 3 of the series the Jays hit three more home runs. But in Game 4 of the series it looked like Kansas City pitchers had enough and Blue Jays hitters started getting hit or brushed back.
In the bottom of the first inning of the final game of that series, Edinson Volquez hit Josh Donaldson.
Two innings later, Volquez came up and in on Donaldson. The Jays still won the game, but it’s worth noting that Donaldson struck out in his next three at bats.
After getting brushed back, Donaldson was not as eager to lean out over the plate.
So if pitching inside is important why don’t more pitchers do it?
The short answer is fear.
Some pitchers grew up throwing against hitters using metal bats. In that case jamming hitters might not get rewarded — it’s hard to saw off aluminum. A good pitch might still fall in for a single and bad one might leave the yard. Those pitchers might have grown up avoiding pitching inside for fear of giving up a home run.
Some pitchers are afraid of hurting someone. Most pitchers don’t mind plunking a batter in the back or the rear end — that just leaves a bruise — but most pitchers don’t want to see someone actually injured.
Some pitchers don’t want to find out if the hitter is the kind of guy who charges the mound after getting smoked.
And, finally, some pitchers don’t want to hurt their own numbers by putting batters on base.
Despite being called the Bad Boys of Baseball, in 2015 Royals pitchers were ninth in hit batters. Eight American League teams — including the Toronto Blue Jays — hit more.
Once again, Dave Eiland isn’t talking about hitting batters intentionally. Dave’s saying the Royals pitchers need to pitch inside and if they do that some hitters will get hit unintentionally.
Dave wants the Royals to have the reputation of a team that isn’t afraid to pitch inside.
And one way to get that reputation is leading the league in hit batters.