Judging the Royals

Here’s how Terrance Gore breaks the formula for stopping base stealers

Terrance Gore keys Royals' victory with late dash

Pinch-runner Terrance Gore scores game-winning run in 10th inning in 4-3 victory over the Twins.
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Pinch-runner Terrance Gore scores game-winning run in 10th inning in 4-3 victory over the Twins.

I have no idea if Terrance Gore is really the fastest kid alive, but that’s what Royals reliever Luke Hochevar called Gore, and after watching Sunday’s game against the Twins, I think Hochevar might be right.

Let’s go back and set the scene:

The Royals were down 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth but scored two runs to send the game to extra innings. Wade Davis pitched the top of the 10th and did what he generally does and the score remained tied going into the bottom of the 10th.

Twins reliever Trevor May came in to face Christian Colon and walked him on four pitches. Then Gore pinch ran for Colon and everyone inside the stadium knew what was going to happen next — if May didn’t find a way to stop him, Gore was going to steal second base.

I’ve gone over base-stealing math before, but Gore’s speed requires me to do some new math, so bear with me.

Let’s say a base runner gets a 12-foot lead and can cover the remaining 78 feet in 3.4 seconds. That’s about 2.29 feet per 10th of a second and that’s about average.

So if the base runner is going to arrive at second base 3.4 seconds after he takes off, the pitcher and catcher have to get the ball to second base in 3.4 seconds or fewer to have any chance of throwing the runner out.

Most big-league catchers can receive a pitch and get it to second base in 2.0 seconds. (Salvador Perez can do it in 1.8, but that’s another story.) So if the catcher is going to take two seconds to get the ball from home plate to second base, the pitcher has to get the ball to the catcher in 1.4 seconds or fewer to have a shot.

Opposing pitchers have noticed the Royals’ tendency to run the bases like their hair’s on fire, so pitchers have been speeding up their deliveries. They do that by throwing more fastballs and “slide-stepping” (they barely pick their front foot up off the ground and slide it toward home).

But — as I’ve pointed out before — when a pitcher slide-steps, his front foot gets down quicker and his arm may be late reaching the release point; and that makes the pitch stay up in the zone. Belt-high fastballs are often the result of a pitcher trying to be quick to the plate.

Up to this point we’ve been talking about an average runner; now let’s talk about Terrance Gore.

Gore says after he takes his lead from first base he can get to second base in 3.0 seconds — with a bad jump it’s 3.1.

Do the math and you’ll see what a problem Gore presents: catchers can’t do much to speed up their times to second base, so it’s up to pitchers to try to get the ball to home plate in 1 second — and that’s incredibly difficult. Really fast pitcher-delivery times are 1.2 or 1.1, and those times still won’t get Gore.

So now you know why Trevor May looked like a hypertensive cat standing on a frying pan. He had to figure out a way to stop Gore and he didn’t have a lot of great alternatives; May could try pickoffs or holding the ball in the set position — holding the ball might deaden Gore’s legs and hurt his jump. The Twins could also try a pitchout, but a guy who runs to second in 3.0 seconds might beat that too.

So May tried two pickoffs (neither were anywhere close to getting Gore) and when he finally threw the ball to home plate, May rushed his delivery and missed the strike zone. May threw another fastball for a called strike and with the count 1-1, May tried his third fastball in a row.

Gore was running, but unfortunately Paulo Orlando tried bunting on his own, which was not necessary; Gore would have stolen the base without Orlando’s help. Orlando fouled off the bunt and Gore went back to first.

Having his worst fears confirmed, May tried two more pickoffs and threw the second one away; Gore took second and third base before the Twins retrieved the ball and got it back in the infield.

Orlando then hit a soft liner to center field, but it was too shallow for Gore to tag up and score; especially with nobody out. But after Alcides Escobar struck out, things were starting to look a little desperate for the Royals.

May walked lefty Mike Moustakas and set his sights on Lorenzo Cain. Once the count went to 2-2, third-base coach Mike Jirschele advised Gore to watch for a pitch in the dirt; May might try to bounce a breaking pitch and get Cain to swing through it.

And that’s just what happened.

May bounced a pitch in front of home plate, Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy blocked it, but it rolled away to the grass and Gore shot home from third base and scored; a walk-off wild pitch.

After the game, I asked Hochevar what he would do if he had Gore on first base. Hochevar said he would ignore him; let Gore steal second and third and then try to strike out the next three hitters.

Hochevar said you can hold the ball or try pitchouts or pickoffs, but you’re better off concentrating on the man at the plate.

Because you aren’t going to stop the fastest kid alive.