Judging the Royals

The home run derby; guess who’s feeling pressure?

Tonight, Major League Baseball holds its Home Run Derby and participants will feel a lot of pressure to perform—and I’m not talking about the hitters. According to guys who have done it, throwing pitches to home run derby participants can be nerve-wracking.

First, the conditions are unusual: nobody throws batting practice with a full stadium. Second, you never throw batting practice with a catcher behind the plate. And third, you never throw BP without a batting cage surrounding the hitter.

That last bit is important: a batting cage makes sure any ball the hitter puts in play goes forward. If you pop a ball up, it hits the top of the cage and you don’t have to worry about the ball coming down on someone’s head (except your own). If you’re early or late on a pitch you won’t smoke someone in foul territory—and at the home run derby you have players and their children lounging in the danger zone. If the guy throwing pitches leaves one too far inside, he just has to hope the hitter lays off the pitch.

And finally the guy throwing the ball wants to give his hitter a chance to win the derby. That means putting the ball in the same place over and over—finding the hitter’s sweet spot and giving him pitch after pitch in the same location.

Tonight, all eyes will be on the guys swinging the bats, but don’t forget to watch the guys throwing the ball; there’s a lot of pressure and the hitters aren’t the only ones feeling it.

A glorified pick-up game

Far be it from me to denigrate the All-Star game, but in many ways it’s a glorified pickup game. (OK, apparently denigrating the All-Star game isn’t that far from me.)

But once you begin to understand how pitching and defense works together, you realize we’re generally not seeing very good team baseball—we might see great individual performances, but there’s no time for the players to coordinate the pitching and defense.

Say the right fielder is playing straight-up; that leaves a gap between him and the right field line. If the pitcher decides to go in on a left-handed hitter and misses his spot, you can see extra bases if the hitter puts the ball into that unprotected area.

The All-Star players arrive in the host city and are immediately swarmed by the media. The players are expected to participate in activities that promote the game and major league baseball. That doesn’t leave much time for an actual workout—they have one, but there’s not that much to it—and the players have little time to go over unfamiliar hitters and how they want to go after them.

I’ll watch the game—I always do—but I know we’re not seeing baseball at its finest.

Mea culpa: Latin for I screwed up

After Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers, Ned Yost talked about his team’s lack of production with runners in scoring position. After the first three games of a big series, the Royals were 3 for 21 in that department.

That interested me because it seemed like Kansas City hitters were expanding their zone—swinging at pitcher’s pitches—before they had to. The desire to collect RBIs can cause some hitters to alter their approach.

For better or worse—and mainly better—this website allows me to post whenever I’m ready. I don’t have to write during games in order to beat deadlines. That allows me to pay attention to the details and take notes as the game progresses, but it also means I’m not starting a story until late in the evening—and that often means trying to write while exhausted.

It’s OK; I’m the one that set things up that way, but it’s something I have to keep in mind. I’ll get to the end of a story and try to proof-read it before posting it and the words just stop making sense. At 2 AM it might as well be written in Swahili. So the next morning I usually try to go back and correct typos I might have made the night before. That’s how things often work now—you put things on-line and then fix them as necessary. You post the stuff and copy-editors take a look at it when they get a chance.

But none of that excuses my mistake: at the end of a long day I decided to add the Royals average with runners in scoring position to my story and mistakenly used the Royals average with the bases loaded. They come in a packet handed out to working journalists every day at the park and I was looking at the wrong side of a sheet with bleary eyes and a fuzzy mind.

We’re now in the era of run-and-gun journalism and all we can do is admit when we screw up, correct our mistakes and try to do better the next day.

And afternoon naps don’t hurt.