Well, if you don’t like Chris Getz, you probably ought to skip this column. In the top of the ninth in a tie ballgame, with two outs and the go-ahead run on third base, Getz demonstrated why the people who play the game value him more than some of the people who attempt to analyze the game statistically. (By the way, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind here: If you’ve got it made up, you’ve got it made up. But if you want to know what others see in a player like Getz, then this situation is worth examining.)
Two down, Mike Moustakas is on third after doubling and moving over on Brayan Pena’s ground ball to the right side. Moose being on third is a big deal: It means he can score on an error, an infield hit or a wild pitch (among other possibilities).
Joaquin Benoit is on the mound. He quickly gets ahead of Getz 0-2. Getz goes into two-strike mode: Move your contact zone back, anticipate off-speed, fight off fastballs and be aggressive with any pitch close to the zone. Benoit tries several change-ups down, but never bounces a pitch. Because the pitches aren’t bounced, Getz is able to get a piece of them. I’ve got no clue what Benoit thinks of catcher Alex Avila’s defensive abilities, but if Joaquin has any doubt about Avila’s blocking technique, bouncing a pitch is off the menu. (Blocking a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third might seem like a routine play at times, but giving the pitcher the confidence to throw his nastiest stuff when he needs it most isn’t routine.)
Benoit alternates between fastballs and change-ups, trying to throw Getz’s timing off, but Getz keeps fouling pitches off. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Benoit tries a fastball low and away. Getz hits it to the shortstop’s right and beats the throw to first base. Moose scores, Royals up 3-2. Jonathan Broxton closes out the ninth with a save, Tim Collins gets the win.
Ask Kevin Seitzer about Getz and he’ll tell you he is a very intelligent hitter who always gives you an “appropriate” at-bat. That means Getz understands what needs to be done and attacks the plate appearance in an appropriate way.
Go ahead and disdain Getz if that’s your preference. But understand that the people who play the game may have a different point of view that doesn’t coincide with yours. You may not understand what Getz is doing on this team, but I’m guessing there are ballplayers flying back to KC tonight who are pretty glad he is.
In the eighth inning, Billy Butler struck out looking with a runner in scoring position. We’ve gone around and around on this subject: Is a strikeout looking any worse than a strikeout swinging? Baseball people tend to think it is. The outcomes of the Butler and Getz at-bats are why: Put the ball in play and something good might happen.
Assists can be a bad way to measure outfield arms. If your arm is good enough, people often stop running on you, which is why I gave Jeff Francoeur a hard time last season. If his arm’s so good, what’s up with all the assists? Jeff said the odds usually favor the runner, but he was in a good throwing streak—which seems to be continuing this year.
People have asked why Moustakas sometimes double-pumps before letting his throw go. He’s waiting for Hosmer to get over to first base.
Getz tripled in the second inning. When Miguel Cabrera applied the tag, he also shoved Getz with his glove. Getz shot him a look, then started laughing. Cabrera wasn’t serious about shoving him off the bag; he was just goofing around (which he often does with baserunners). The most interesting part of the exchange (and I’ll have to ask tomorrow) is what Getz planned to do if he thought Cabrera was serious—tell his dad? I’m not sure Getz or anybody else wants a piece of Cabrera.
In the third inning, a shift worked when Brad Eldred lined out to second base. It’s easy to remember when they don’t work, but when someone is positioned right in front of a ball, we tend to forget it. Hope someone on the Royals is counting.
Alcides Escobar was thrown out trying to steal third in the fifth inning, so some people are going to complain the Royals are being too aggressive on the base paths (more on that soon). Generally, the runners are given the relevant delivery times, a key to watch for and the green light. According to the MLB broadcasters, Esky had been 7-7 in previous attempts when stealing third. This time Alcides did not appear to have a good jump (you’re supposed to have a good lead and a good jump when stealing third). Jarrod Dyson was at the plate, and a left-handed hitter gives the catcher a clear throwing lane. In this case, the fault may lie with the execution, not the philosophy.
We’ve been arguing over whether a base stealer helps a hitter more than a baserunner who doesn’t usually steal. In the top of the sixth with Alex Gordon on first, Justin Verlander tried to pick him off three times in a row. Following Doug Sisson’s advice to watch the quality of the pitch to the plate after three successive pickoff attempts, I was paying close attention. When he finally went to the plate, Verlander drilled Billy Butler with a pitch that got away from him. Hosmer’s grounder to first moved both runners up, which allowed Gordon to score on Jeff Francoeur’s grounder to short. Studies seem to show that overall, a base stealer’s influence is negligible; instances like this are why ballplayers disagree.
Part of why Verlander is Verlander: Hosmer got into two fastball counts in that sixth inning at-bat. 2-0, Verlander threw Hosmer an 85-mph change-up; 3-1, he served up a 97-mph fastball. Hard for a hitter to sit on anything.
What’s true in general
What’s true in general might not be true in a specific situation. Games like this are why a lot of major-league managers believe you have to be able to play “small ball” when the situation demands it. Verlander pitched eight innings and never gave up two hits in a single inning. A lot of managers believe if you wait for the big inning with a top-of-the-line pitcher who’s on his game, you’re going to have a long wait.
Verlander gave the Royals two extra runners: He walked Dyson in the first and hit Butler in the sixth. Dyson stole second base, Gordon moved him over to third by grounding to the right side and Hosmer drove Dyson in. (If I were on the other side of this argument, I’d point out that Hosmer drove him in with a double and Dyson probably would’ve scored anyway, but since I’m on this side of the argument, I’ll point out that if Dyson hadn’t stolen second, the Gordon ball might’ve been a double play.)
The other run scored because Hosmer moved the runners over in the sixth. No ground ball to the right side, no run on Francoeur’s groundout. I don’t think this is going to change anyone’s mind, but this is a good example of why ballplayers and managers believe this approach is necessary when the game calls for it. And with Verlander on the mound, most ballplayers think the game calls for it.