Judging the Royals

Even the best baseball teams are inconsistent

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) throws in the first inning during Tuesday's baseball game against the Kansas City Royals on June 24, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) throws in the first inning during Tuesday's baseball game against the Kansas City Royals on June 24, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

Tuesday night the Kansas City Royals got beat by the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-0. If you’re a Royals fan the inconsistency of your hometown team might be making you crazy, but being inconsistent is pretty much what baseball teams do.

As of Tuesday afternoon there were two teams in all of baseball winning more than six out of ten games: the Oakland A’s with a winning percentage of .618 and the Milwaukee Brewers at .603. Winning somewhere between five and six games for every ten games played is what a good team does.

Take a look at the first-place Detroit Tigers and what they’ve done in the month of June: they started the month with four losses, then won two, turned around and lost three, then they won a game, next game they lost, then they won two, they followed that by losing a game and are now on a five-game game winning streak.

That’s baseball.

The best teams win about six out of ten and the worst teams win about four. The season is made up of hot and cold streaks; good teams and good players have longer hot streaks and shorter cold streaks. That’s why baseball players try so hard to keep an even keel; no matter how things are going, things are bound to change.

Even the best baseball teams are inconsistent.

How to play the game when a pitcher is dealing

The Dodgers Clayton Kershaw came into Tuesday’s game with an ERA of 2.52 and left the game with an ERA of 2.24. When a pitcher is dealing it changes the game and we saw it in the first inning.

Justin Turner started the game with an 11-pitch at bat and a triple. With a runner on third and nobody out, Ned Yost brought the Royals infield in to cut down a run at the plate. Bringing the infielders in reduces their range and makes the hitter more likely to sneak a ball through the infield, so when a manager does that, the run on third better mean something.

In most games the manager is reluctant to put his infield defense in a vulnerable position until he knows the run on third is important, but when you have Clayton Kershaw on the mound you might figure you’re going to have a tough time scoring runs.

Another thing you might see is more aggressive base running; it seems likely you’re not going to rack up a lot of hits, so if you get one with a runner on second base, you’re probably going to send the runner home.

And finally your offense can adopt one of two approaches to a pitcher that’s dealing: they can take pitches and try to get that pitcher out of the game early, or they can be aggressive about swinging the bat and try to hit something early in the count before the pitcher gets to his put-away pitch.

Tuesday night Kansas City went 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position so third base coach Mike Jirschele never got a chance to send a runner home and—at the plate—the Royals seemed to decide on aggressiveness: lots of early hacks trying to avoid two strikes and Clayton Kershaw’s slider.

It didn’t really work.

Danny Duffy battled

After the game Ned Yost said Danny Duffy didn’t have his best stuff, but still battled and threw six innings while only giving up one run. Ned also said the old Danny Duffy wouldn’t have made it through three innings. Learning to battle without your best stuff is a sign of a mature pitcher and if that’s what Danny Duffy is becoming, his development is more important than a loss to the Dodgers.

Hunter Wendelstedt’s strike zone

Home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt had a lot of hitters disagreeing with his strike zone, but if you think the umpire’s missing pitches, don’t take strike three looking. On the other hand, hitters might still blame the umpire if they swing at strike three.

The hitters reason that if the umpire hadn’t made such a bad call on strike one or two, they wouldn’t have had to chase a bad pitch on strike three.

P.S. I’ve watched a lot of games with Jason Kendall and he says it’s very hard to see how much the ball moves if you watch on TV. If you’re at the stadium, you’d need seats right behind home plate to see a pitch’s movement. Fans might wonder why the hitter chased a pitch so far out of the zone; it’s probably because the pitch looked like it was coming down the middle when the hitter started his swing. And that brings us to…

What constitutes good pitch selection?

There’s been a lot of talk about pitch selection and the Kansas City Royals, but some fans seem to assume seeing a lot of pitches is good pitch selection—that may or may not be true. One hitter might see six pitches and have a bad at bat; another hitter might swing at the first thing he sees and have a great trip to the plate.

Say there’s runners on first and third, one down and with the count 00 the pitcher throws a mistake fastball up and out over the plate; taking that pitch is a horrible mistake. The hitter got what he needed to get the ball in the air, avoid a double play and drive in a run—but he took the best pitch of the at bat. With some pitchers a hitter might get one good pitch to hit so taking that pitch and having to swing at something marginal later in the at-bat is not good pitch selection.

Now take the same pitch, but this time the hitter’s team is down by three in the ninth. No matter how far you hit a baseball they only let you run around the bases once, so taking that pitch is a good idea; the hitter is trying to get on base anyway he can because his team needs base runners.

OK, now pretend there are two runners on base and the hitter’s team is down by three in the ninth; if the hitter gets a pitch to drive he might want to take a hack at that first pitch. Different situations require different approaches.

So how do you tell if a hitter is showing good pitch selection?

First; think about what the hitter is trying to accomplish. Does he want a groundball up the middle with the infield back, a fly ball to stay out of a double play or a grounder to the right side to move a runner over?

Knowing what the hitter is trying to do helps you understand which pitch he should attack. Hitters need to be selectively aggressive. When they get the right pitch, they get aggressive. And the right pitch might be the first pitch.

It all depends on the situation.