Judging the Royals

Are the Royals too aggressive at the plate?

Kansas City Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando connected on a two-run single in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game.
Kansas City Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando connected on a two-run single in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Thursday night, the Royals had a comeback win against the Seattle Mariners, topping things off with a walk-off double by Salvador Perez. Because Perez hit that double, on Friday morning the talk is about how the Royals play better at home and never say die.

Good for them.

But if Perez hadn’t doubled, at least part of the conversation would be about how the Royals lost because they were too aggressive at the plate. They were swinging early and often and allowing Mariners pitcher James Paxton to go deep in the game with a low pitch count.

If you were watching the game Thursday night and thinking the Royals needed to show some patience, here are some numbers to ponder.

James Paxton faced 28 batters and by my count threw strike one to 22 of them. Over his career when hitters put the first pitch in play against Paxton they hit .379. If Paxton throws a first-pitch strike and it’s not put it in play, after that 0-1 count hitters bat .214.

In 2016, the Royals team batting average is .272, but when they put the first pitch in play it’s .387.

It’s pretty simple: pitchers want to get ahead in the count by throwing strike one. If they can get that first pitch in for a strike they can begin to expand the zone; aim for the corners and use those secondary pitches.

Take strike one and if the pitcher is any good, you’ll start seeing sliders, curves and change-ups thrown in tough locations to hit. If the pitcher’s not any good, be patient: he’s likely to fall behind in the count and you’ll see more than one good pitch to hit.

But when a pitcher is throwing strikes, the best pitch of an at-bat might be the first pitch and Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum has given his hitters permission to hit it.

When it doesn’t work it looks awful — a lot of quick outs — but when it does work it looks great; the hitters are knocking the pitcher all over the yard.

On Thursday night in the eighth inning, Paulo Orlando swung at the first pitch he saw and drove in two runs; in the ninth inning Salvador Perez swung at the second pitch and won the game.

And nobody said they were being impatient.

The double play that wasn’t

The Mariners were turning double plays left and right, and in the eighth inning it looked like they were about to turn another. With one out and runners on first and second, Alcides Escobar hit the ball back to the mound.

Paxton did not turn and throw the ball to second base to start a double play; instead he tossed the ball underhand to first base.

Some pitchers have trouble throwing to bases — although I haven’t seen Paxton enough to know if that’s true of him — but it sure looked like he wasn’t interested in trying to throw the ball overhand to second base off a pitcher’s mound.

Not throwing the ball to second base was huge; instead of ending the inning it put two runs in scoring position and those were the runs Orlando drove in on the next pitch.

The Royals rundown and what they did wrong

Too many throws and it’s not the first time they’ve done this.

The idea is for the guy with the ball to get the runner sprinting hard so he can’t change direction, and then flip the ball to the guy who’s going to make the tag. If you want to get the runner going back to the base he came from you can make two throws, but once you’ve got the runner going the right direction there should only be one throw.

The Royals are not getting the runner going hard enough and they’re making their flips too soon; that’s allowing the runner to change direction and force another throw.

They need to get this cleaned up.

It all starts with the starting pitcher

Danny Duffy threw 6  1/3 innings and gave up two runs, and that’s a quality start.

As I’ve said before, the Royals starting pitchers do not have to be incredible, but they do need to keep the game close enough to give their teammates a chance. Duffy did that and his teammates came back with four runs in the eighth and ninth innings.

The Royals have done all they can to help out their starters — the best defense and bullpen in the league — but the starters need to at least keep the game close. Duffy did that Thursday night and it would be a good thing if Yordano Ventura could do the same thing on Friday.

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