If you’re like me and you’ve been reading everything you can about the Royals and spring training, you might have come across some phrases and thought, “What’s that mean?” Danny Duffy is adding a “toe tap”, Chris Getz is changing his “swing path” and Ned Yost has the team working on “cutting the bases.” What the heck are they talking about? Wonder no longer, because what follows is a Spring Training Glossary.
“Toe tap”: Here’s what Duffy means: When a pitcher picks up his front foot and raises his knee to its highest point in his delivery, that pitcher is in “balancing position.” (Man, now I’ve got to explain that.) OK, balancing position means just that — the pitcher should be balanced. To do that, the toe on his front foot should be pointed down because if the toe is pointed up, he’ll lean back and be out of balance. If a pitcher wanted to stop and hold his position when his knee reached its highest point, he should be able to. If he tries to stop and falls over, he’s not balanced. (And having a pitcher stop in balancing position during a windup is one of the drills used to help a pitcher achieve good mechanics … try it yourself and you’ll see it’s not easy.)
If a pitcher is falling forward toward the plate when he should be balanced, he’s “rushing.” Both Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery have recently talked about their problems with rushing their pitches, so it’s a fairly common problem. A pitcher that rushes comes out of proper mechanical sequence; it’s like throwing a baseball while falling out of a tree. You might have good mechanics, but it’s difficult. If the front side (Duffy’s right foot) gets headed toward the plate too soon, his back side (Duffy’s left arm) never catches up, the proper release point is missed and the ball stays high in the zone.
So what Duffy’s doing to keep from rushing toward the plate is lifting his front foot, hitting the balancing position, then bringing his foot straight back down, tapping his toe and then starting toward home plate. That toe tap keeps Duffy “over the rubber,” puts everything into proper sequence and allows him to throw a low strike.
“Getting over the front side”: This is related to rushing. As we just talked about, if the front side starts home too soon, the back side never catches up and the pitcher has a hard time following through “over the front side.” Try it yourself: Take a real long stride and try to finish over your front leg. Now take a shorter stride and see what happens. You’re going to find it’s easier to follow through with the shorter stride. The Royals want to make sure Montgomery finishes over his front side (lead leg). This helps create a good “downhill angle” on the pitch and that means the hitter is more likely to hit the top half of the ball and drive it into the ground.
“Team At-Bats”: As I recall (I’ve recently learned to say that when writing from memory) this came out of Johnny Giavotella‘s mouth. Team at-bats are pretty much the same as the “quality at-bats” I’ve written about before; you don’t necessarily have to get a hit to have a team at-bat. Walks, sacrifices, moving a runner over and seeing eight or more pitches also count. It’s a way to encourage players to think about the team instead of themselves.
“Swing path”: The Star’s Bob Dutton recently wrote that Giavotella is the favorite at second base as long as he hits, but that Chris Getz is complicating the decision by showing some new-found power. Getz attributed that power to adjusting his swing path. Here’s what Getz means: he’s starting with his feet closer together and then taking a longer stride. Getz is still ending up in the same position once his front foot hits down, but he’s generating more forward momentum to get there.
There is a danger in this.
It works great in BP, but once games start, pitchers change speeds. If Getz starts forward too soon, he’ll have no weight shift left by the time the ball arrives. Hitters that emphasize this kind of weight shift to generate power have to keep their hand back in order to hit off-speed pitches they weren’t anticipating. Using the hands to flip the ball the other way is an “emergency hack” and should only be used when the hitter’s in a hole. Hitters shouldn’t break out the emergency hack if they’re in a 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 type hitter’s count.
Getz is also changing his bat angle. Say a hitter in his stance holds the bat straight up: once the bat head starts to drop it generates a lot of energy and those hitters can golf the snot out of a low pitch, but might struggle with a pitch up in the zone. That pitch can find a hole in their swing path. (Picture Tiger Woods starting to hit a drive and the tee suddenly lifts the golf ball above the belt.) Contact hitters tend to have flatter bat angles, it helps them cover more of the zone, but that can mean they don’t generate as much pop.
Getz has used a very flat bat angle up until now. He’s now trying to keep his bat at 45 degrees, halfway between flat and straight up. This allows him to “drop the head” on the ball (keep the bat head above the ball until contact) which generates more energy and creates “rising backspin.” Hitting down on the ball results in those beautiful (unless you’re a pitcher) rising line drives.
“Funnel”: This is part of what Giavotella is working on. Infielders need to keep their hands away from their body and “funnel” groundballs back toward their midsections. (Imagine a giant funnel attached to your navel.) This motion softens a fielder’s hands. I’m under the impression that everybody thinks Johnny is eventually going to hit at the major-league level and it sounds like the Royals are going to give him that chance. But poor defenders have to hit better than good defenders, so the question becomes, how much does Gio have to hit to make up for his defense? Of course, if Giavotella improves defensively (and he intends to) that changes the equation.
“Cutting the bases”: I mentioned this in an earlier comment, but it’s worth mentioning again — what Ned Yost means by “cutting the bases” is the angle the runner uses when approaching a base. Watch a hitter come out of the box on a sure hit and you’ll see he doesn’t run directly toward first base. The runner will take a path about 12 feet to the right of first base. This has the runner making his turn before he reaches the bag. The runner tags the inside corner with either foot (some teams insist on the left foot, it sharpens the turn, but the Royals don’t want anyone shuffle stepping to get on the correct foot). By making the turn before he hits the bag, the runner is taking a much more direct path to the next base.
Here’s the advantage: When you make a decision to continue to the next base, would you like to have the turn out of the way first or decide to go to second and then make a giant turn that carries you toward the outfield? Cutting the bases correctly shortens the distance the runner has to cover and puts everybody in a better position to make a decision.
“Getting behind a throw”: Picture a fly ball headed toward the outfield. Now picture an imaginary “X” on the ground at the point where the ball will land. If an outfielder is standing on that “X” when the ball comes down, he’ll have no momentum toward the infield when he makes his throw. That’s fine if no base runner is attempting to advance. But let’s say there is a runner — if the outfielder gets behind that “X” and makes the catch while moving forward he’ll make a better throw. (He should also make the catch over his throwing side shoulder; it puts him in a better throwing position.)
As a fan, you should get upset when an outfielder “drifts” to the ball (jogs back and arrives at the “X” moving away from the infield) with runners on. Better effort might have allowed that outfielder to play “behind the ball.”
OK, I could keep going, but I’m running out of room. From now on if you hear a term and wonder what it means, post a comment. If I don’t know what it means, I’ll find out and bring that information back to the site (as long as it’s clean — some terms my editors wouldn’t want explained). As I’ve said before, the fact that the Royals are working on these details of the game should be encouraging to fans.
It’s what winning teams do.
P.S. If you want insight into how precise this stuff gets, check out the video below of Doug Sisson explaining how to take a lead at first. It’s mind-boggling. Doug has graciously agreed to make some videos for us showing the drills their doing in Surprise and what those drills accomplish. We’ll post them when they’re ready. While you’re at it, see the other videos on our Lee TV page.