Judging the Royals

Jeremy Guthrie throws a quality start, but the offense doesn’t come through

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox Monday, July 21, 2014, in Chicago.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox Monday, July 21, 2014, in Chicago. AP

Jeremy Guthrie threw six innings and gave three earned runs: that’s a quality start. The Royals bullpen supplied a quality finish; three scoreless innings from Aaron Crow, Scott Downs and Jason Frasor. Once again the Royals pitched well, but couldn’t come up with enough offense to make the pitching pay off.

Kansas City has scored two runs in the last three games. They’ve already gotten one hitting coach replaced; at some point you need to look at the players.

The Chicago White Sox beat the Royals 3-1.

Game notes

First inning: Guthrie gave up a single to Adam Eaton and hit Alexei Ramirez with a pitch, then Danny Valencia made an error; the bases were loaded, two runners were in scoring position and Adam Dunn was at the plate. Dunn hit what would normally be double-play groundball to short, but in this case Alcides Escobar was playing a shift and stationed on the right-field side of second base.

You can play extreme defensive shifts, but the pitcher has to hit his spots to make those shifts work. If the pitcher can’t hit spots the defense needs to play straight up; nobody knows where the ball is going.

Second inning: Danny Valencia got hit by a pitch which might have been in retaliation for the two White Sox that got hit by pitches in the bottom of the first. It didn’t appear that home plate umpire Mark Wegner issued a warning—he was letting the players police the situation: you hit a couple of our guys, we’re going to hit one of yours.

Umpire warnings can actually extend a bean-ball war: issue a warning too soon and someone gets hit the next day. Issue another warning and retaliation has to wait yet another day or extends into a season-long game of payback.

Fourth inning: Alex Gordon stole second and old-school middle infielders probably liked the way Gordon Beckham covered second base; he straddled the bag. Lots of infielders want to position themselves on the side of the bag closest to the throw, catch the ball, then reach back and make the tag. It’s slower, but keeps them out of the runner’s way. Guys who straddle risk a collision with the runner, but can make the catch and just drop the tag straight down.

In the Sox half of the fourth Guthrie had a runner on first base and nobody out when a bouncing ball was hit past the mound. Jeremy had the presence of mind to let the ball go and allow Alcides Escobar to turn a double play. That also means Guthrie did his homework: he knew where Esky was positioned before he threw the pitch.

Fifth inning: Jarrod Dyson attempted a bunt, but did what you see so many players do—he squared at the last second. That means Dyson’s head was moving as the ball arrived and that makes it hard to lay down a bunt. And just to make matters worse, Jarrod got hit in the finger on the attempt.

Sixth inning: With a runner in scoring position Danny Valencia chased ball four; a fastball up around the shoulders. Swings like this are part of the problem; too many guys get anxious in an RBI situation and start chasing marginal pitches. And this pitch would have needed to be a lot closer to the strike zone to be considered marginal.

Adam Dunn led off the bottom of the inning with a walk and later scored on a sac fly to Jarrod Dyson. The Royals centerfielder got behind the ball and came forward as he caught it—that adds momentum to the throw—but caught the ball over his glove-side shoulder. Catch the ball over the throwing shoulder and your front shoulder is closed; already in a good position to make the throw.

Young players’ mistakes

"God either gives a brain or a body, but he rarely gives you both."

That’s from Tim Bogar, Texas Rangers bench coach. Here’s what Tim means: think back to high school and ask yourself if the best athletes were also good students. It happens, but it’s rare.

A lot of players get to the big leagues because they have overwhelming physical talent. Other players climb the ladder because they’re smart and the make up for physical deficiencies with their brain. Those players don’t miss signs, they understand the situation and they have very good fundamentals. Other guys don’t know the signs, but hit a three-run bomb to make up for it.

Now guess which type of player becomes a coach.

The brain guys—the guys who had to play smart to survive—tend to be the ones that go into coaching. So you’ve got a bunch of smart guys trying to teach a bunch of young guys (whose main talent may be physical) how to play intelligent baseball. It can be a frustrating experience.

And even young guys who are smart mess up. Earlier this season Eric Hosmer made a base-running mistake and once Rusty Kuntz explained what had gone wrong Hosmer said he wouldn’t make that same mistake again. Rusty said: "Oh, yes you will. But maybe the second or third time you make it you’ll learn your lesson."

Players are often rushed to the big leagues and when that happens it means they just haven’t played as many games as they probably should have. Unfortunately, screwing up in games is one of the main ways you learn. Mistakes that probably ought to be made in the minors are then made in the big leagues.

But the required learning curve in major league baseball is steep. You’ve got a few years to prove your worth, but you better demonstrate a reason for a team to pay you big money once free agency rolls around. If a team can’t see giving you a big contract, they’re likely to let you go and bring up someone who’s cheaper.

The Royals are supposed to be in a window of opportunity; ready to compete for a playoff spot. But time is running out. Players can’t continue to make fundamental mistakes, chase the same pitches in the same situations and say that’s baseball, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow.

Some players are running out of tomorrows—and so are some teams.