Judging the Royals

Salvador Perez and the importance of getting the ball in play

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez connects on an RBI double to score Eric Hosmer in the eleventh inning during a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox.
Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez connects on an RBI double to score Eric Hosmer in the eleventh inning during a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox. jsleezer@kcstar.com

After the Royals won the World Series last year the team celebrated in the clubhouse for a while and then decided to carry that celebration out onto the field. A very tired and champagne-soaked Rusty Kuntz stayed behind in the very nearly empty clubhouse and talked to the few remaining reporters.

Rusty said a lot of interesting things that night, but here’s one to remember: “We showed the importance of getting the ball in play.”

Part of the Royals game plan was to get the ball in play and force the Mets to play defense. The Royals felt if they could do that and run the bases aggressively the Mets defense would not handle the pressure and the Royals were right.

In 2015 no team was harder to strike out than the Kansas City Royals; they got the ball in play and forced other teams to play defense. The Royals struck out 973 times and for comparison’s sake, the Houston Astros led the league with 1,392 strikeouts. The Royals forced other teams to make a play 419 times more often than the Astros did; 419 more chances for the other team to make an error, 419 chances for a hit to fall in.

If you’re wondering what happened to the Royals this season I’d start with injuries, but somewhere on the list would be strikeouts. The Royals have already struck out 862 times and they still have 47 games left to play. This season the Royals are on pace to strike out 1,214 times; 241 more times than they did in 2015; 241 fewer chances for the other team to make an error; 241 fewer chances for a hit to fall in.

And on Friday night a hit falling in helped the Royals beat the Twins.

Salvy gets sawed off but got the ball in play

In the fifth inning, the Royals were losing 3-2 but had the bases loaded with two outs. Salvador Perez, the Will Rogers of hitting (he never met a pitch he didn’t like), was in a 2-2 count. Twins catcher Kyle Gibson and catcher Kurt Suzuki had been trying to get Salvy to chase sliders away and after four of them decided to bust Salvy in on the hands.

Get a hitter leaning out over the plate to cover sliders away and you’ve got a good chance of jamming him with an inside fastball.

Their plan worked. Gibson got the pitch in on Salvy and shattered his bat. But the Royals catcher was strong enough to muscle the ball over the Twins’ third baseman for a single and two runs scored. The Royals took a lead they’d never give up.

Sure, get the ball in play more often and you’ll hit into more double plays — the Royals hit into 133 of them in 2015 — but when compared to 419 chances for something good to happen, the Royals will take those odds.

And if the Royals want to stay out of double plays they could send me to the plate; I’m pretty sure I could guarantee a strike out whenever they needed one. Striking out isn’t much of a game plan.

Getting the ball in play matters and this year the Royals have been doing it less often.

The Twins score three runs; why four runs is the magic number

The Royals beat the Twins 7-3 and won their third game in a row. Beat the Twins one more time this weekend and the Royals will win their third series in a row. Since the beginning of August the Royals are 7-4 and suddenly look suspiciously similar to the team that won a World Series last season.

So what’s going on?

The Royals are built to play low-scoring games and when their opponent scores three runs or less the Royals are 43-12; when their opponent scores four runs or more the Royals are 13-47.

The Royals offense has scored fewer runs than any team in the American League (in 2014 and 2015 they were in the middle of the pack) so the Royals pitching and defense needs to keep the score low for the team to have a chance.

When John Gibbons and the Toronto Blue Jays were in town, Gibby said they didn’t like playing in Kauffman Stadium and if the Jays got in a one-run game the Royals would have an advantage; the Royals were better suited to manufacture one run.

Get into a slugfest and the Royals will probably lose; play a low-scoring game and the Royals will probably win.

Why you shouldn’t get too worked up about catchers and the stolen base

Last season, when Terrance Gore was with the Royals, he stole a base and afterward was asked if he stole the base off the pitcher or the catcher. Terrance said you always steal bases off the pitcher.

As Rusty Kuntz recently pointed out, if the pitcher delivers a pitch to home plate in one second flat — a very fast delivery time — the catcher can make a mediocre throw to second base and a middle infielder will still have time to catch that off-line throw, get back to the bag and tag the runner.

And a pitcher taking his own sweet time to deliver a pitch isn’t the only thing that can make a catcher look worse than he really is.

Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki came into Friday night’s game with some pretty bad numbers when it comes to throwing out base stealers, but Friday night’s game was a shining example of why numbers need context.

The Royals stole three bases, but two steals of second base came with a fast runner on third. The Twins elected to have Suzuki hold the ball and prevent a double steal that would score a run. The third stolen base came when reliever J.T. Chargois fell asleep and allowed Raul Mondesi to get a huge jump and steal third base.

It certainly helps when a catcher has a quick and accurate arm; it takes pressure off the pitcher to speed up his delivery time. But take too long to deliver a pitch and a catcher’s arm doesn’t matter at all.