Judging the Royals

Was this a bad outing for Danny Duffy?

Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy delivers in the first inning of Sunday's baseball game against the Indians in Cleveland.
Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy delivers in the first inning of Sunday's baseball game against the Indians in Cleveland. The AP

Six innings pitched, 10 hits, four runs and six strikeouts; was this a bad outing for Danny Duffy? According to Royals manager Ned Yost, Duffy was all right — he kept his team in the game. Unfortunately, if Duffy’s effort was all right, the Indians Corey Kluber’s effort was outstanding: eight and a third innings pitched, four hits, one run and 10 strikeouts.

Most of the pitches Duffy got hurt on were pitches up in the zone. If you’re going to pitch up, you probably want to pitch higher than high  — baseball-speak for pitches up out of the zone, but to do that you’ve got to get ahead and convince the hitter to chase those high fastballs.

The Indians beat the Royals 4-1 and take the series two games to one.

Christian Colon and the off-speed pitch

Friday night Christian Colon had three extra-base hits and all came on fastballs. In fact, Colon saw 15 pitches that night and 12 were fastballs — which was no surprise; rookies often get challenged with fastballs when they first arrive in the big leagues. On Sunday the Indians adjusted.

Here’s what Colon saw in his three at-bats:

First at bat: Slider, slider, sinker, curve, slider

Second at bat: Sinker, slider, curve, sinker, slider

Third at bat: Fastball, sinker, sinker, slider, sinker, sinker

Colon struck out once and grounded out twice. Paul Splittorff once told me that in the old days rookie hitters might see a lot of fastballs during their first trip around the league and then start seeing off-speed stuff, but nowadays, with all the video and advanced scouting, the league adjusts faster than ever.

Look around

If you see someone on a baseball field point at his eyes, then swirl his finger in the air, he’s telling someone to look around.

Base runners need to know where the defenders are positioned so they can get better jumps on balls in play; they don’t have to wait to see the ball get down — they already know the right-center gap is undefended.

The same thing goes for pitchers; they need to know where the defenders are positioned.

Danny Duffy took a swipe at a bouncing ball up the middle and fortunately missed. It was fortunate because Christian Colon was positioned perfectly. Had Duffy deflected the ball, it might have been an infield single instead of a routine grounder.

Mike Moustakas separates his offense and defense

Mike Moustakas made a couple of outstanding defensive plays and deserves credit for separating his offense and defense — more on that in a moment. Moose also hit his tenth home run on a slider in the middle of the plate and supplied some of the power the Royals lack.

But here’s more on why you want to leave bad and good at-bats back in the dugout…

How hitting well or poorly can hurt your defense

When we were working on the book "Throwback" one of the things Jason Kendall emphasized over and over was the need to separate offense and defense. A player can’t afford to be standing in the outfield thinking about his 0 for 4 or re-living the bases-loaded double he just hit.

Hitting well or poorly can be a distraction if a player allows his mind to wander.

Kendall suggested that any time I saw a player make a mental mistake on defense, I should look at what that player had done on offense. If a player’s moping about striking out in his last at-bat, he won’t be ready when the ball comes his way.

Mike Moustakas has had plenty of bad at-bats to think about, but he hasn’t let that affect his defense.

How to put a hitter in swing mode

Let’s say you’re a big league pitcher and you look at a hitter’s hot and cold zones and see a spot — let’s say down and away — where’s he’s hitting .115. Why would you throw a pitch any place else? Why not attack that weakness right away?

First reason: The hitter won’t swing because he also knows it’s a weakness.

Second reason: Weaknesses aren’t in the heart of the plate. Throw three borderline pitches to a guy who isn’t swinging and you’ve got a real good chance of being 3-0 or 2-1. If that happens, then you’ll have to pitch to a hitter’s strength; the middle of the zone.

You can’t go to a hitter’s weakness too soon; you’ve got to get them in swing mode first.

So how do you do that?

One approach is to go right at the hot zone. You can sometimes throw a pitch right by a guy just because he doesn’t think you’ll try it and he’s not looking for that hot zone pitch. That helps explains the scene we sometimes see: a hitter taking a pitch right down the middle.

Or the hitter might swing when he realizes what he’s getting, but since he wasn’t looking for that pitch, his swing might be late. That helps explain why we see a guy get his pitch and foul it back. If a pitcher gets away with this — going right at a hot zone — the battle may already be won. The hitter knows he got his pitch, took it or missed it and now he starts expanding the zone.

Lots of hitters are afraid to hit with two strikes. If they know the pitcher — Clayton Kershaw would be a good example — has a devastating slider they want to avoid trying to cover that pitch in a two-strike count. If a hitter is trying to avoid that two-strike put-away pitch, he might expand the zone with one strike. If that’s the case, the pitcher is in control of that at-bat after throwing just one pitch.

Another approach is to appear to go right at the hot zone, but throw something with movement that veers off into a cold zone. I’ve been told by players that it’s hard for fans watching on TV to spot a pitch’s movement. Cameras are usually set up off to one side of the mound and we never get a straight on view. So we see a hitter chase a pitch in or off the plate and wonder why; but maybe the pitch appeared to be hittable, the hitter triggered his swing and the ball moved to a less hittable location.

Pitchers also need to know how dumb or smart a hitter is; throw a pitch to a dumb hitter’s hot zone and he might knock it a mile — he has no game plan, he’s not thinking about what the pitcher may or may not do and he just saw a hittable pitch. On the other hand, once you figure out how to get the dumb hitter out, you can just keep doing the same thing over and over; he won’t adjust.

Getting big league hitters out is never easy, but it gets easier if you can put a hitter in swing mode.