Judging the Royals

You can’t win ’em all and the Royals prove it against Jose Fernandez

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez.
Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez. Tribune News Services

I’m not sure if it’s in the U.S. Constitution or it’s one of the 10 Commandments or I just read it on a fortune cookie, but “you can’t win ’em all” is one of the rules we all have to live by. (Unless you’re the ’72 Dolphins, but that’s another story and I’d appreciate it if you’d ignore that glaring exception to the rule I just made up.)

So where were we?

On Wednesday night, the Royals lost 3-0 to the Marlins and it might be because the Royals faced an All-Star pitcher who’s now 13-7, has an ERA of 2.91 and has already struck out over 200 batters this season.

Why hitters swing at sliders

If you spent a major part of your Wednesday evening watching the Royals and yelling “How can you swing at that?” let me guess … you’ve never faced a big-league slider.

Hitters want to hit fastballs and the slider is designed to look like one right up until the hitter starts his swing; then that fastball down the middle turns into a slider that finishes down and out of the zone. The key to spotting the slider is a red dot on top of the ball, caused by the spinning seams.

I know because I’ve seen it; usually as I swung and missed at what I thought was a fastball.

The Royals didn’t want to chase pitches out of the zone, but if a slider is thrown hard enough and has a tight rotation it’s easy to mistake it for a fastball. And if the Royals were taking fastballs down the middle you would have been yelling at the TV about that.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

According to MLB.com, Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was throwing a curve, but everybody else seems to think he was throwing a slider, so I’ll go with everybody else.

According to FanGraphs, this season Fernandez has thrown his slider 27 percent of the time. But last night against the Royals when there was a runner in scoring position, that number shot through the roof.

Let’s use the top of the second inning as an example:

▪ With one out, Alcides Escobar saw six fastballs, one slider and singled.

▪ With one out and a runner on first, Raul Mondesi saw a first-pitch fastball and singled; Escobar went first to third.

▪ With one down and a runner on third, Dillon Gee saw three sliders and one fastball. Gee put down a bunt, Fernandez made an error and the bases were loaded.

▪ After that Paulo Orlando saw six sliders in a row and struck out.

▪ Then Christian Colon saw three sliders in a row and grounded into a force out.

Once there was a runner in scoring position Fernandez threw 13 pitches and 12 of them were sliders. On Wednesday night, the Royals were 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position and Fernandez going to his slider was one of the reasons why.

So why not throw sliders all the time?

Sliders can be tough on the elbow, so throwing sliders all the time would be a great way to meet a doctor who does Tommy John surgeries. Plus, smart pitchers don’t always want a swing-and-miss; they often want hitters to put the ball in play, they just want to control how and where the batter hits the ball.

But with a runner on third and less than two outs, a lot of pitchers go for the punchout and that’s why you see more breaking pitches in that situation.

And the slider is a better pitch when hitters are looking for a fastball; never throw a fastball and hitters will quit looking for it and then the slider will lose much of its effectiveness.

With runners in scoring position, the cookie store is closed

So what’s a hitter to do?

Quit looking for fastballs when the percentage pitch is a slider. With a runner in scoring position hitters might want to look for the off-speed pitch the pitcher can throw for strikes.

In the big leagues, hittable fastballs are called cookies and, according to Rusty Kuntz, when there’s a runner in scoring position, the cookie store is closed. You might want to hit a fastball — and if the pitcher falls behind in the count, maybe you’ll get one — but until then you might want to look for that slider.

Marlins 3, Royals 0 and Kansas City’s nine-game winning streak is over.

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