Judging the Royals

Ian Kennedy, pitching mechanics and the perils of trying too hard

Ian Kennedy gave up four runs in the first inning Monday.
Ian Kennedy gave up four runs in the first inning Monday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Learn something about pitching mechanics and the number of things that can go wrong when throwing a baseball is astonishing.

A pitcher can take too long a stride, he can take the ball out of the glove too late, he can over-rotate, he can under-rotate, he can take too far a step backward, he can get his front leg too high, he can rock back too far, he can miss his arm slot, he can get his hand on the side of the ball, he can release the ball too soon or he can release the ball too late.

And if I knew more about pitching, that list would be longer.

Considering what can go wrong, it’s amazing any pitcher does everything right and makes the ball go where he wants it to go. On Monday night Ian Kennedy wasn’t doing everything right; his bottom half was jumping at the plate too soon.

Kennedy said it didn’t happen in the bullpen when he was warming up; the mechanical breakdown only showed up when he got in the game and in front of the crowd — Ian was pumped up and trying too hard.

The image of a rich athlete, just going through the motions and not caring about the results is a popular one and that guy does exist; but it’s far more common for athletes to fail because they’re trying to do too much.

Because Kennedy was pumped up he was letting his lower half jump at the plate too soon, his arm was late and he was missing his release point; that can cause the ball to miss the plate on the arm side. When Kennedy tried to correct that by holding on to the ball a bit longer he was yanking it and missing the plate on the glove side.

If the details confuse you, here’s the short version: in the first inning of Monday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels, Ian Kennedy had no idea where the ball was going and gave up four runs.

After that first inning Kennedy made an adjustment (he slowed down and stayed back longer) and went on to pitch four scoreless innings, but he was disappointed that he couldn’t make the adjustment sooner. By the time Kennedy made the adjustment, it was too late and the Royals lost 6-2.

What happens when you get a ring

One of the theories I’ve heard about this current Royals team is the players got their ring last year and are now just going through the motions. Run that theory past Royals coach Rusty Kuntz and first he bursts out laughing, then he explains: “Y’know what happens when a player gets a ring? He wants another one.”

Rusty points out that big-league baseball players are some of the most competitive people on earth and they’re not in the business of being embarrassed — they like to win.

Think about how much fun winning the World Series was for fans; now imagine how much fun winning a World Series was for the players. If a player ends a season holding a trophy and spraying champagne, that player wants to end every season that way.

Playing to keep your family together

One of the reasons people like the Royals is they seem to like each other. When one of them succeeds, they all celebrate. They seem to have fun playing baseball together.

A 162-game season is a grind and you make it through that grind with your teammates. During a baseball season players spend more time in the clubhouse than they do in their homes; your teammates are your family.

After Monday night’s loss Ned Yost said none of his players have given up; everybody is still trying. But baseball’s weird; try too hard — chase a bad pitch, over-swing when you get a good pitch or let your lower half jump at home plate — and one of those family members might be traded away.

The Royals are two games under .500, 8  1/2 games out of first place and the trading deadline is looming on the horizon.

This next week should be interesting.