Judging the Royals

Kansas City loses 2-1: How failure to knock the ball down cost the Royals the game

Austin Jackson led the game off with a double and Ian Kinsler followed that with a single. The ball was hit back up the middle, bounced off the mound and went just under Alcides Escobar’s glove. Escobar chose not to dive for the ball and with Kinsler running, Esky probably would not have had a play at first base; but that’s not the point. Had Escobar dove and knocked the ball down, Jackson would not have scored from second base—he would have had to stop at third.

Duffy followed the Kinsler single with three straight strikeouts and had everything remained the same—always a big if—the Tigers would not have scored their first run. When you play a one-run ballgame everything matters; the reluctance to get a uniform dirty cost the Royals a run.

The second play was Danny Duffy’s attempted pickoff of Rajai Davis in the third inning. Davis was on second base and Duffy was clearly concerned about him. Second baseman Omar Infante was stationed near the bag to hold Davis close and Danny feinted in that direction a couple times.

When Duffy finally attempted a pickoff at second his throw was not that far off line, but it was slightly toward the left field side of second base—that had the ball and Davis arriving at the same approximate place at the same approximate time. Infante was there, but whiffed on the catch. This appeared to be another play where knocking the ball down would have made a difference. Infante did not keep the ball on the infield; Davis advanced to third and scored on a Miguel Cabrera sac fly.

The bad thing about baseball is you might never recognize the key moments until the game is over—that’s why you play the game hard all the time. The Royals lost to the Detroit Tigers 2-1, but might have won if two infielders had found a way to knock the ball down and keep it from going into the outfield.

The third play that changed the game

Unfortunately, home plate umpire Chad Fairchild felt the need to make a call that changed the game: he called Lorenzo Cain out for interference when Bryan Holaday tried to make a throw to second base. Nori Aoki was stealing and the ball sailed into centerfield.

Cain—who can fall across home plate when he doesn’t swing—had both feet in the batter’s box as Holaday came up to throw. Cain’s back foot appeared to come out of the box after the ball was on its way.

If you watch much baseball you’ve seen hitters do much more to impede a catcher’s throw without getting an interference call. Had Fairchild not called interference Aoki would have been on third and the Royals would have scored when Eric Hosmer singled.

The Royals let the Tigers get the ball to the back of their pen

I’ve written that opposing teams can’t afford to let the Royals reach the eighth inning with a lead because that’s when they’ll see Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

It works the same way in reverse: if the Royals reach the eighth inning and are still behind, the opposing team gets to bring in their set-up man and closer. In the Tigers’ case that means Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan.

How the All-Star game affects the bullpens

Because of the All-Star break managers can use their bullpens knowing that all their relievers will get a few days off after the weekend. So we might see set-up men and closers used in situation where they might not normally pitch.

How time of day affects defensive positioning

There’s a left-handed hitter at the plate; should you put on a left-handed shift?

It might depend on what time it is.

Before I explain that one; I should mention I recently had a long conversation with my friend, Russ Morman. Russ is a minor-league manager in the San Francisco Giants system and I always learn something when I talk to him—like why the time of day affects defensive positioning.

According to Russ—and he knows way more than me—hitters are more likely to pull the ball during a day game. The lighting is better, they see the ball better and they’re quicker to start their swings.

But in a 6:00 o’clock start the lighting is tough for several innings; it’s twilight, shadows come into play and hitters don’t see the ball that well. As a result you see more swings-and-misses and more late swings; because visibility is bad the ball gets on the hitters more quickly. And Saturdays are worst of all because that’s when you tend to have early twilight starts.

Russ also said you don’t see a lot of scoring in the early innings when the lighting is tough. He’s found it rare for any team to have a real big inning early in the game if the game starts at 6 PM—it happens, but not often. The runs are usually being scored one at a time, if at all.

Why match-up numbers can be inaccurate

Russ and I then moved on to matchup numbers and how they’re used in baseball; turns out matchup numbers are more useful when you you’re talking about starting pitchers. That’s because the sample size tends to be larger. Once you get to 20+ at-bats the numbers start to mean more.

A hitter might be one for six against a reliever, but that doesn’t tell you that the hitter lined out twice—he actually hits this particular pitcher quite well.

On the other hand; if there’s too much time elapsed between at bats the numbers may be meaningless. Russ said he saw pitcher Dave Stewart early in his career, went 2 for 4 so his matchup numbers looked good and his manager wanted him to face Stewart a few years later. But by that time Stewart had developed a splitter and wasn’t the same pitcher at all.

The same thing happened against Roger Clemens; Russ had some early success, but when he ran into Clemens later in their careers Roger wasn’t the same guy—he was much better.

Because matchup numbers against relievers are usually based on very few at-bats, managers tend to rely on the left-handed/right-handed splits. Those managing matchups tend to occur in the sixth and seventh innings. By the time the game moves to the eighth, the set-up man and closer are coming into play and those guys are expected to get both left and right-handers out.

Why I love my job

Because I get to have conversations like the one I had with Russ Morman. I’ve been playing, managing and learning about baseball at a fairly intense level for 24 years now—and yet someone can still amaze me by telling me something I didn’t know.

Who knew time of day could change where you position your defenders?

It’s wonderful that baseball is so varied and complex that it can still surprise you no matter how long you’ve been learning about it. Ask the guys who do this for a living and they’ll say you never know the game. To me that’s a positive; that means you’ll never be done learning—the game will always be able to surprise you.

It also means the people who think they know it all, don’t.