Judging the Royals

The Detroit Tigers’ bullpen is terrible, and things the Royals need to clean up

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Matt Boyd was pulled by manager Brad Ausmus in the fourth inning Saturday at Kauffman Stadium.
Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Matt Boyd was pulled by manager Brad Ausmus in the fourth inning Saturday at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Friday night Detroit starting pitcher Michael Fulmer threw five and two-thirds innings. That exposed the Tigers’ bullpen, and over the next two-and-a-third innings Detroit’s relievers gave up nine runs.

On Saturday night Detroit’s starting pitcher, Matt Boyd, threw three and two-thirds innings. Once again the Tigers’ bullpen got exposed, and over the next four-and-a-third innings Detroit’s relievers coughed up nine more runs.

When it comes to collective ERA the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen is the worst in the league. So if you’re a Royals fan you want to see those right-field gates swing open as early as possible.

On Sunday the Tigers will send Jordan Zimmermann to the mound, and he’s 9-3 with an ERA of 3.46. Detroit manager Brad Ausmus will want Zimmermann to go as deep in the game as possible so he doesn’t have to go to his pen early. The Royals hope Zimmermann has a short outing and they get to beat up on those Tigers relievers one more time.

The Royals are starting Chris Young, and both pitchers will have to deal with the heat and that might be to the Royals advantage; once the game goes to the bullpens, Kansas City should have an advantage.

It’s pretty simple: Keep the ball down

After covering the Royals for a while I picked up a pattern to the postgame press conferences; if Ned Yost talked about his pitcher keeping the ball down, he was talking about a win. If Ned Yost talked about the ball being up, he was talking about a loss.

When a pitcher keeps the ball down – let’s say below mid-thigh and around the knees – he can use the whole plate. Even a pitch smack dab in the middle of the dish is a pretty good pitch, as long as it’s down. Pitches that are down usually result in grounders, and the grounders that aren’t caught usually result in singles and most of the time you need three of those to score a run.

When a pitcher is up in the zone he needs to be much more fine; he has to hit a corner or keep the pitch above the batter’s swing path. (That’s what you’ll see Chris Young try to do on Sunday afternoon.)

Trying to hit corners is a great way to fall behind in the count, and once a pitcher falls behind in the count he has to come toward the middle of the plate to make sure he throws a strike. And 2-0 fastballs in the middle of the dish usually leave the scene of the crime with great velocity.

In baseball, everything starts with the pitcher, and Royals pitchers have been better at home (3.59 ERA) than on the road (4.48 ERA). One of the explanations for that is the size of the park; fewer balls leave the yard when the Royals are playing in Kauffman Stadium. Until this heat wave and the Detroit Tigers hit town, no AL team had given up fewer home runs in their home park.

But there’s another explanation for the Royals’ success at home: Because they feel comfortable pitching in a park the size of Rhode Island, Royals pitchers are more likely to be aggressive. When pitching at home the Royals have given up a walk every 3.2 innings, and when pitching on the road the Royals walk someone every 2.3 innings.

Being aggressive and throwing strikes is good for pitchers, the teammates that play behind them, the umpires that have to call the games, the fans in the stands and, not least of all, baseball writers who don’t get to leave early if the game’s too long.

So throw strikes – but keep the ball down.

Stuff the Royals need to clean up

On Friday night with nobody out in the top of the seventh inning, Victor Martinez hit a clean single to Lorenzo Cain. The ball glanced of Cain’s glove, and the Royals center fielder did not go full speed after the ball.

That allowed Martinez – who moves slower than some glaciers – to advance to second base, and that meant the Royals pitchers had to get three outs with a man in scoring position.

Martinez’ journey around the bases died at third, but a faster runner would have been able to score on a wild pitch thrown by Kelvin Herrera; Martinez thought about it, then went back to the bag and the Tigers never scored what would have been the tying run.

But the Royals weren’t done making mistakes.

With the score 2-0 and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning Salvador Perez hit a down-and-away slider into the right-center field gap; it was a sick piece of hitting. There were two runners on and both scored, but Perez made a crucial base-running mistake that went largely unnoticed; he turned a single into a double.

Most of the time that would be a good thing, but with two outs a runner needs to be able to come into second base standing up, because if that runner coming into second base gets thrown out before the runner headed for home crosses the plate, the run doesn’t count.

Stop the video once relay man Ian Kinsler has the ball in his hands, and you see Perez is still a long way from second and Eric Hosmer is even farther from home plate. If Kinsler had thrown the ball to shortstop Jose Iglesias, who was covering second base, Perez would have been out and Hosmer’s run would not have scored.

Neither mistake wound up hurting the Royals, but you’re not going to win every game by seven runs. That’s why coaches harp on this stuff; it needs to get cleaned up before it comes back and bites you in the behind.