Judging the Royals

Brian Flynn and the problem with a fastball in a fastball count

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brian Flynn was relieved by manager Ned Yost in the third inning of Tuesday’s game.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brian Flynn was relieved by manager Ned Yost in the third inning of Tuesday’s game. jsleezer@kcstar.com

“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” Either Warren Spahn or Benjamin Franklin said that (I’m pretty sure they both played in the same era).

Now here’s why that matters to Royals fans:

Fastball counts, such as 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1, are counts in which the pitcher needs to throw a strike and is likely to do it with a fastball.

If a hitter is in a fastball count and gets a fastball, his timing will not be upset. The hitter will probably come out of his shoes swinging at a fastball if he gets one.

On Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians, Brian Flynn started for the Royals ... and here’s what hitters have done against him in fastball counts: at 2-0, they hit .444 and slug 1.222; at 2-1, they hit .545 and slug 1.091; and at 3-1, they hit .800 and slug 1.000.

So pitchers have three options:

1. Stay the heck out of fastball counts.

2. Throw something other than a fastball in those counts.

3. Throw a great fastball in those counts.

In the first inning Tuesday, Flynn had two outs and Francisco Lindor on first base. Lindor will steal a base when the opportunity arises, so Flynn decided (or Salvador Perez decided for him) to throw a fastball out of a slide-step.

But the count was 2-0, Mike Napoli was at the plate (he already had 20 home runs) and slide-steps can make a pitch stay up in the zone. Flynn threw a fastball in a fastball count and it was up in the zone; Napoli clobbered it.

That was just the start of a less-than-scintillating evening of baseball for Royals fans.

Flynn did not make it out of third inning (Ned Yost didn’t let him face Napoli again). Dillon Gee took over and the Royals went on to a 7-3 loss.

On Wednesday, Ian Kennedy squares off against Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco, and if you want to understand what’s happening and why, pay attention to those fastball counts. And when Kennedy is pitching, let’s hope you don’t see too many of them.

Who ya gonna believe?

The other day I wrote that three mistakes killed the Royals in a game against the Detroit Tigers, and one of the mistakes I cited was Salvador Perez’s failure to block a curve in the dirt with a runner on third base.

Rusty Kuntz thought I was wrong about that; according to him, the curve was bounced too far away from home plate for Perez to have any chance to keep it in front of him.

At this point, a couple of things are worth mentioning:

First, when it comes to baseball, I’d trust Rusty Kuntz way more than me.

Second, he was there, I wasn’t.

Distances on TV can be deceiving, so I was ready to eat humble pie and say maybe I got it wrong about Perez. If you won’t admit you made a mistake, it costs you credibility and I’ve got enough problems in that area now that I’m sporting a Hos Haircut and a goatee.

(I look like my evil twin.)

But Tuesday night, with Kendrys Morales on third base, Danny Salazar bounced a curve in the dirt very similar to the one I wrote about. In this case, Indians catcher Chris Gimenez tried to block it; Perez just reached over and tried to glove the ball that came his way.

Maybe Rusty still wins the argument, because even though he gave it a good effort, Gimenez still couldn’t block the pitch. But maybe I still win the argument, because an attempted block looked a lot better than just waving the mitt at the ball as it went past.

When Mariners bench coach Tim Bogar was in the minor leagues, he failed to dive for a groundball up the middle; Tim could see he just wouldn’t get there. Afterward, his coach pulled him aside and said: “If you don’t dive, we don’t know.”

Give it your best effort and show everybody you couldn’t get to that ball.

On the other hand; if I’m Perez and I’m catching 140 games a summer, I might just jog down to first on sure outs and try to glove wild pitches too far away to block.

But if Perez had tried to block that pitch and couldn’t, we’d know for sure.