Games » Seattle MarinersAug8
Kyle Davies had a quality start and Mike Aviles didn’t. Mike got defensive points for an acrobatic play involving a short hop and tag of second, but he later made a crucial error on an Ichiro Suzuki grounder. Ichiro’s speed seemed to be the culprit. Mike probably felt he didn’t have time to get his arm up to a better throwing position, got under the ball and nearly took out a peanut vendor with his throw.
(Rule of thumb: A low throw is better than a high one. Bouncing the ball gives someone a chance to make a play. A high throw gives someone in the third row a chance to make a play.)
Aviles also grounded into a double play with runners at first and third with one out in the eighth. In this situation, the hitter’s job is to get a pitch up in the zone and send it to the outfield. The pitcher’s job is to throw a pitch down in the zone that the hitter will top for a groundball. Seattle pitcher Brandon League won the battle.
The Royals just got a whole bunch of new parts, and it looks like they’re still trying to figure out where they all go. Aviles has been at three positions so far and hasn’t had a lot of time at short. The Royals are trying to figure out if Wilson Betemit can hold down third. Chris Getz is getting his first shot at extended play in a long time. Kila Ka’aihue is supposed to be a defensive upgrade from Billy Butler (insert Billy Butler joke here), but is still unfamiliar to his teammates. Alex Gordon is being remade into an outfielder, and everybody’s trying to figure out what Gregor Blanco brings to the table.
The Royals have a lot of evaluating to do. Stay tuned.
More on Chen…
Bruce Chen has been on a roll lately, and I wanted to take a stab at explaining why. (By the way: this is just a theory, but it’s a good one.) OK, the secret to Bruce Chen’s success? First-pitch strikes. Everybody knows first-pitch strikes are good, but not everyone knows why.
To explain, I have to go back to a Triple-A game I saw about 15 years ago. Russ Morman was playing for the Charlotte Knights and batting fourth. A pitcher named Mike Birkbeck was throwing for the Tidewater Tides. Mike had a great curve and could throw it for strikes. (Mike once gave me a throwing lesson, but it didn’t help.)
In the first inning, Mike started the No. 3 hitter with a curve. The hitter swung and fouled it back. Next, Mike threw a fastball and the hitter swung and fouled that back, too. The hitter went on to strike out. Mike then started Russ with the same curve and Russ took it for a strike. Mike then followed it up with a fastball and Russ crushed it, banging it off the fence for a double.
After the game, I asked Russ if the difference in the two at-bats was not swinging at that first curve. He replied that pitchers are trying to screw with your timing. They want you to swing at everything: fastballs, off-speed, up, down, in and out. If you oblige them, smart pitchers will lead you around by the nose, changing speeds and having you off-balance all night. (OK, that’s the cleaned-up version of his reply. I think he managed to call me a dope a couple of times in the real one.)
Smart hitters want to eliminate pitches (it’s what Russ did and the No. 3 hitter didn’t do). They want to be in a count where the pitcher has to throw a strike. Then the hitter can eliminate the pitches the pitcher can’t consistently throw for a strike.
Two-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 and, depending on the situation, 3-2 are fastball counts. The pitcher needs to throw a strike, and it’s easiest to do that with a fastball. Give a major-league hitter a fastball in a fastball count and he’ll get a great swing.
That summer I vowed not to swing at a breaking pitch until I had to. I had my best season. I called Russ at one point and said, “Once you eliminate all the other crap they throw up there, they’re all the same guy.” I was spitting on breaking pitches and hitting fastballs of a similar velocity every time I went to the plate.
Russ said, “Congratulations, you just learned to hit.”
So how does all of this apply to Chen?
When he throws strike one, the hitter can’t eliminate pitches. Strike one allows Bruce to throw anything he wants, to any zone he wants, for two more pitches. If he gets to 2-1 he might have to throw a fastball, but if he throws another strike in the next two pitches, Bruce is 1-2 and won’t have to throw a fastball for a strike until he gets to 3-2. That’s what they mean by getting ahead. The pitcher who is pitching ahead can throw what he wants, when he wants (and it doesn’t even have to be in the zone) and the hitter can’t eliminate pitches. The pitcher can throw the kitchen sink up there.
Fall into a fastball count and now it’s the pitcher who has to eliminate pitches (all the ones he can’t consistently throw for strikes). The pitcher might have to throw a fastball just to make sure he throws a strike, and that’s what the hitter is looking for.
OK, short version: When Bruce Chen falls behind, his selection of pitches is limited. When he throws strike one, he can continue to throw all of his pitches.
Keep throwing strike one, Bruce.