Judging the Royals

Chris Young pitches up in the zone and misses his spot

Royals starting pitcher Chris Young
Royals starting pitcher Chris Young AP

Royals starter Chris Young had the Angels’ Mike Trout in an 0-2 count Wednesday night and tried to pitch “higher than high,” which has absolutely nothing to do with drugs. Pitching higher than high is pitching above the strike zone and can be a good way to get a swing-and-miss.

Here’s why:

Despite what every misinformed dad tells his son, you don’t swing level. Think about it: the bat starts above your back shoulder, goes down to make contact with the ball and ends up above what was your front shoulder when you started your swing.

How the heck is that level?

Next, big-league hitters don’t have much time to decide whether or not to offer at a pitch, so they start their swings every time and then shut the swing down if the pitch is not where they want it — at least that’s the theory.

So deciding to swing at a pitch isn’t a yes or no proposition; it’s a yes-yes-yes-no proposition. Assume every pitch is going to where you want it, start your swing to that spot and shut it down when the pitch winds up somewhere else.

That’s why we see hitters take pitches that look very hittable; the hitter was anticipating some other pitch or a pitch in some other location and shut his swing down when he didn’t get it.

Now back to Young, Trout and pitching higher than high.

In the fourth inning with a 2-0 lead, a runner on first and Trout at the plate, Young threw a first-pitch fastball. Trout was either anticipating a different pitch or a fastball in a different location because he took it for a called strike.

The second pitch was a slider and Trout didn’t want that pitch either because he took it for a called strike two. But now Trout couldn’t be so picky; the third pitch was another slider and Trout fouled it off.

And that’s when Chris Young tried to go higher than high. Hitters want to hit fastballs and they want to hit fastballs up in the zone, so a fastball above the zone will often get them to trigger their swing.

But swings start downhill; remember?

So by the time the hitter figures out this fastball is too high, he’s too far into his swing, and can’t get the bat back; he swings through it — unless the pitcher misses his spot by a couple inches.

Young told Star beat writer Rustin Dodd that’s how much he missed by, the pitch wasn’t high enough and that meant Trout could get the bat to the ball and make contact — and it was very good contact.

Park dimensions matter, most of the time

Some fans probably get tired of someone saying a home run hit in another park would not have been a home run in Kauffman Stadium, but people say that because much of the time it’s true. But in Trout’s case, that home run would have left any park in the country, including Yellowstone. (Old baseball joke.)

Nevertheless, park dimensions matter.

Young pitched 5  1/3 innings and got eight of those 16 outs on balls hit in the air. Kauffman Stadium’s dimensions make it easier to pitch that way; other parks can be less forgiving.

That can be one of the reasons teams have worse road records; they’re not built to play in someone else’s park. Another reason is there are a lot of distractions on the road, but that’s another story.

So if a Royals’ pitcher finds himself pitching in a bandbox he can try to keep the ball on the ground, but that tactic might not work on a fast infield — and apparently Angel Stadium had a fast infield.

If you have infielders with good range, you cut the grass short. That makes the surface faster and if the other team’s infielders are slower, that will give you an advantage; you’ll get to more balls than they do. If your infielders have all the range of an upright Amana freezer, you cut the grass long and try to negate the speed of the other team’s infielders.

If a defensive metric doesn’t take surface speed into account — and the length of the grass can be changed depending on the opponent — that metric isn’t much good for comparing infielders’ range.

Now let’s look at Safeco Field

The Royals got swept in LA, have a day off and then play three games against the Seattle Mariners in Safeco Field.

According to the Mariners website, the left-field foul pole is 331 feet away from home plate; the K’s is 330. But left center is 378, center is 401, right center is 381 and the right-field foul pole is 326. Compare that to the K: 330 down the lines, 387 in the gaps and 410 in dead center.

But you can also throw in time of day — the ball usually carries better in day games — and whether the rolling roof is over the field or pulled back. And I’ve got no idea how fast Seattle’s infield is because they don’t put that in media guides.

OK, that’s about it.

But from now on, if you see a catcher signal fastball, then set a high target or make an upward motion, he’s asking that pitcher to pitch higher than high.

And if the pitcher misses his spot, that pitch might go a long way.

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