Spend some time learning about pitching mechanics, and it’s amazing anyone ever throws a strike ... so much can go wrong.
A pitcher can get the ball out of the glove late or take too big a stride or over-rotate or under-rotate or fail to get on top of the ball; that’s just a sampling of the stuff that can derail a person throwing a baseball.
So a pitcher has to do a whole bunch of stuff right to make the ball go where he wants it to go, and he needs to do all that stuff right without thinking about it.
Friday night, against the Cleveland Indians, Edinson Volquez’ mechanics were out of whack; the Royals' starting pitcher was “flying open” for about three innings.
During those three innings, Volquez surrendered two walks, a home run, two doubles, two singles, a wild pitch and four runs. If we had a crystal ball, we would have known the game was over after the first three innings because Cleveland’s starter, Danny Salazar, wasn’t flying open or anything else.
He was lights out and would give up a total of three hits and one run over eight innings.
So what is “flying open”?
Volquez is right-handed, so when his front shoulder “flies open,” it’s rotating toward first base too soon.
That throws the pitching arm off track and the pitcher will tend to miss his target on the arm-side and high. That would be "in" to a right-handed pitcher, "away" from a lefty.
Take Yan Gomes' second-inning home run as an example.
In a 1-0 count, catcher Drew Butera called for a fastball down-and-away. Volquez flew open, missed his spot and left a 94 mph sinker up and toward the middle of the plate; Gomes crushed it.
After the third inning, Volquez made an adjustment and put three scoreless innings on the board before running into trouble in the seventh, but with Salazar on his game it didn’t matter.
Volquez was flying open for the first three innings and gave the Indians a lead they’d never give back.
And how about 'pace'?
The website FanGraphs keeps a stat called “pace”: the time a pitcher takes between pitches.
Mark Buehrle was known for working quickly and over his career averaged 16.7 seconds between pitches. In 2015, he sped up and averaged 15.9 seconds between pitches.
Volquez is not known for working quickly and over his career has averaged 24.6 seconds between pitches. This season, his pace has slowed to 25.1. So Volquez at his worst takes 9.2 seconds longer to deliver a pitch than Buehrle at his best.
As long as I have my calculator out, let’s do some simple arithmetic. (I’ve done this math before, but it’s well worth doing again.)
Assume 15 pitches per inning are about average, and both pitchers throw 200 innings in a season. Volquez would take two minutes and 18 seconds longer than Buehrle to throw his 15-pitch inning.
Multiply that over 200 innings, and Volquez’ defenders would be on the field seven hours and 40 minutes longer than the guys playing behind Buehrle.
(Speaking of working quickly, it’s been so long since I started writing this bit I’ve kinda forgotten what my point was going to be.)
Oh, yeah, it’s coming to me now. Pitchers who work quickly get better defense behind them, and even if a pitcher doesn’t win, he doesn’t force the rest of us to watch him walk around the mound adjusting his jersey and pondering the meaning of life.
Baseball writers have to watch at least 162 games a season, so we all appreciate a pitcher who works quickly.
Pick up the pace.
Watch out for milestones
When the irrepressible Jeff Francoeur played in Kansas City, he reached 19 stolen bases and then got thrown out several times before getting his 20th. Players like to reach milestone numbers (20 sounds so much better than 19) and Francoeur was pushing his luck to get to that nice, round number.
Alcides Escobar has never shown a whole lot of patience at the plate, but once he reached 999 career hits he went through a mini-slump trying to get to 1,000. Baseball rewards a consistent approach, but when a player is approaching a milestone, he might try too hard to get there.
Thankfully, Escobar got that 1,000th hit Friday night ... so now he can get right back to his usual approach: hacking at the first pitch he sees.
What youth does for you
Once a player has been in the big leagues for a while, he can forget how cool it is. Even a big-league lifestyle can become routine.
So when new players make it to the majors for the first time, it energize a team; the new players want to impress and play with a lot of hustle. And that reminds everyone that being in the big leagues is pretty awesome and they shouldn’t take it for granted.
The downside of young players was on display in the seventh inning of Friday night’s game: Cheslor Cuthbert singled to right, but decided to go for two and was thrown out at second base. Trying to stretch a single into a double might be a good play in a one-run game; doing it in the seventh when you’re down by three runs isn’t.
The younger players bring energy; the older players have experience.