The other day, the Royals had a players-only clubhouse meeting and since then they’ve won a couple games. So do clubhouse meetings make a difference?
Like so many other questions, the answer to this is, "It depends."
Presumably the team had a meeting because things weren’t going well and things probably weren’t going well because the players weren’t playing good baseball. If the players have a meeting and change their approach, then maybe the meeting did some good. If the players blew a lot of hot air about winning and giving it their all and then went right back out and did the same things that caused them to call a meeting in the first place, then the meeting was probably worthless.
It might make the players feel better, and it will serve as a distraction to the media — we love to speculate on players-only meetings — but unless the approach to the game changes, the results will usually remain the same.
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What every good team has in common
Former Royals coach Doug Sisson once said this to me, and it makes a lot of sense. Teams have won with togetherness — the "We Are Family" Pirates — and teams have won while fighting one another — the Oakland A’s back in Reggie Jackson’s day — but all good teams have one thing in common:
You can have all the meeting you want, but they don’t mean a damn unless you pitch ahead in the count, get good pitches to hit, run the bases in an intelligent manner and play solid defense. Everything else is window dressing and those of us in the media often don’t know enough about good fundamentals to spot them. So we pay attention to the window dressing.
How the Royals scored their first run
Lorenzo Cain doubled and Omar Infante bunted him over to third base. In the past, Ned Yost has said he won’t play for one run in the first inning, so if that was the case, Infante was bunting on his own.
Some guys will do this because it protects their average. And I’ve got no idea whether Infante is on this list. If the bunt goes for a hit, his average goes up. If the hitter makes an out but the bunt moves the runner, his average stays the same. Move the runner by hitting the ball to the right side, and if it doesn’t sneak through the infield, a player pays for doing the right thing. His batting average goes down. (I’ll see if I can find out tomorrow whether Infante was bunting on his own.)
After Infante did his job — moving the runner — Eric Hosmer did his. He hit a ball in the air to get the run home.
Whenever first base is open you have options
In the second inning with runners at second and third and first base open, James Shields walked Adam Eaton. It took him eight pitches, so it wasn’t a straight-out intentional walk. But with the slumping Gordon Beckham on deck, walking Eaton was not the worst thing that could happen.
Any time first base is open, a pitcher has options. And if there’s a very slow runner on first, a pitcher still might walk the guy at the plate. Even if the runner is on second base, the slow runner is still two hits away from scoring.
Chasing pitcher’s pitches
Like I said at the beginning: If you have a meeting and then go back out and do the same stuff, the meeting didn’t do much good.
So let’s look at the third inning. With a runner on first base, Lorenzo Cain was being pitched down and in. Why?
That’s because with a runner on first base, there’s a hole on the right side. The first baseman is holding the runner. Sox pitcher Jose Quintana wanted Cain to hit a ground ball to the left side so his third baseman or shortstop could start a double play. Cain obliged. He swung at a pitcher's pitch in a 2-0 count. Cain could have taken that pitch, but he didn’t, and the Sox got a 5-4-3 double play.
Why Adam Dunn walks
Adam Dunn strikes out a lot, so why don’t pitchers challenge him all the time?
Four hundred and fifty-five home runs.
When a hitter has that kind of power, pitchers are not going to screw around with him if they don’t have to. They might try to make a couple perfect pitches, and if they miss, they’ll just pitch around him and deal with the next guy. If a guy doesn’t have power, pitchers are more likely to be aggressive. So there usually is no point in telling a singles hitter that he ought to be patient. Most of the time, all he’s going to do is fall behind in the count and then have to hit on the pitcher’s terms.
Pitchers don’t fear him.
Pitch selection in the fifth inning
In a 2-1 count, Mike Moustakas pulled a curve on the outer half of the plate and hit a ground ball to second base.
In a 1-1 counts, Alcides Escobar swung at a 92-mph fastball in on his hands and went on to strike out swinging.
In an 0-1 count, Lorenzo Cain hacked at an 0-1 fastball in on his hands.
In each case, the hitter swung at a pitcher’s pitch before he had to. I’m sympathetic. Things are happening very fast when pitchers throw 90 mph. And some pitches look hittable, but then movement takes them to a less hittable location. But some of these pitches never look like strikes, and if they do look like strikes, they don’t look like hittable strikes.
Why you can’t extrapolate a relief pitcher’s numbers
You can’t look at Wade Davis’ numbers — he threw another scoreless inning — and assume he should be a starting pitcher. Even though his ERA is now down to 1.05, that number has been produced as a reliever. He only faces hitters once, he needs fewer pitches and he know he won't be out there for long. He can put the pedal to the metal and throw as hard as he can.
As a starter, he would have to pace himself, throw more pitches and figure out how to get guys out three times instead of once.
A battle of the bullpen generally favors the Royals
With the score tied 1-1, the game moved to the bullpen, and that’s usually pretty good for the Royals. Their pen has been outstanding, and that's a huge advantage in the later innings. Ned Yost brought Wade Davis in to keep the game tied, and, once the Royals took a lead in the top of the ninth, the game was in the hands of an All-Star closer, Greg Holland.
The Royals beat the White Sox 2-1.