Games » Los Angeles AngelsAug10
OK, we’re 113 games into the season, and every night I still take about three times as many notes as I can use the next day. So before I get caught up in explaining some esoteric pitching philosophy, here are some of the notes from the last two games…
If this is an extended audition for a lot of new players, it ain’t going so hot. It’s WAY too early to draw conclusions about these guys, but there are trends to keep an eye on. Like Kila Ka’aihue making 10 fly-ball outs in his last 19 at-bats. It’s not the end of the world and he must not have been doing this in Triple-A or he wouldn’t be here, but it’s not a good start.
And just because a guy killed it in Triple-A doesn’t mean he’ll do it in the Bigs. My friend (and after I tell this story, maybe my former friend) Russ Morman, lit it up in the minors but couldn’t do the same thing consistently up here. When I asked him why, he said, “Three to five miles an hour. The pitch I’m banging for a double down there, I’m fouling off up here.”
Conversely, when I asked Clint Hurdle what players off his AA Williamsport team had a legitimate shot, he named four guys. One was Tim Bogar. Like a lot of less-knowledgeable fans, I was caught up in offensive numbers, and Tim’s weren’t overly impressive. Clint said, “He plays eight positions, he’s a great guy in the clubhouse and if I told him standing on his head with peanut butter smeared on his face would help his hitting, he’d ask ‘crunchy or smooth?’. Not only is he going to the big leagues, he’s going to stay there a long time.” Ten years, as a matter of fact, and currently the third base coach for the Red Sox.
Apparently, the Royals have some team rule that you have to have a baby if you want to play for them this summer (Gregor Blanco’s the latest). Last night, Frank White and Ryan Lefebvre said it had been a busy summer…sounds like it was a busier winter. (Rimshot!) I’ll be here all week.
The best job in baseball is bullpen catcher. You get a uniform, hang out with the players, travel around the country and never have to step on the field and risk all that. As Jerry Dipoto once told me, “Overexposure is the fastest trip out of the big leagues.” Other than handling 98-mph fastballs, nasty breaking pitches and getting my left knee to bend all the way, I could do this job!
I could also handle one important part of being a first baseman. People talk about soft hands and footwork, but never mention another important attribute: conversationalist. When Hurdle was coaching first for the Colorado Rockies, he complained about a visiting team’s All-Star first baseman. “He’s a stiff.” A what? “A stiff…I’ve gotta spend three days with the guy, you want someone funny over there.” I can’t hit, field or run, but I will make you laugh…usually, when I hit, field or run.
Speaking of first. The other night Sean O’Sullivan threw over there after Bobby Abreu led off the game with a single. Fans watched the play at first, but the action was at home plate: O’Sullivan wasn’t very serious about picking off Abreu. He wanted to know if Erick Aybar was bunting. Pitchers will almost always go over to first in a sacrifice situation to see if the hitter gives away the bunt by squaring early. Aybar did, but it was a very smart play on his part: He really wasn’t bunting, he was going to hit away. By squaring, he might bring the corners in and assure himself of a fastball, the most common pitch when the batter’s trying to bunt. (It’s thrown up in the zone in order to get a pop-up, but if you know it’s coming, you can hold your hands higher and try to get on top of it.)
When a runner is trying to steal, a common tactic pitchers use is holding the ball in the stretch. Imagine a sprinter in the blocks, waiting for the gun. Wait long enough and the legs go dead and the pitch can be safely delivered home. It’s up to the batter to protect his runner by calling time and giving his teammate a fresh start.
Gregor Blanco scored easily from first on a Billy Butler double. That’s the kind of speed that’s been missing from the Royals in the past…but two Blanco throws looked unimpressive. Watch for runners trying to take advantage of what might be a sub-par arm.
And since I mentioned Butler: He leads the team in walks. I imagine one of the reasons is that Billy on the basepaths isn’t much of a threat. He’s not going to steal and has trouble taking the extra base. I was watching a game in which a pitcher worked around Jose Guillen with Billy on first. Jose’s walk pushed Billy to second, and I asked the former big-league pitcher sitting next to me why anyone would work around Guillen and push Billy into scoring position. He asked, “What makes you think Billy’s in scoring position?” Ouch. Cold, funny and true in one shot.
White and Lefebvre were talking about the Angels and how they seemed to have an endless supply of the same type of player: fast, fundamentally sound and often switch-hitters. I thought the whole idea was to look at your stadium, figure out what kind of team would have an advantage there and draft accordingly.
The Angels have done that, and for the last couple of decades, the Royals haven’t. One year the Royals decided fans liked home runs and moved the fences in (apparently they hadn’t made the fine distinction between visiting team home runs and home team home runs). That experiment went kablooey, and they decided to move the fences back again, adding thousands of square feet to the outfield…so of course that year they signed “The Human Beer Keg” Matt Stairs. I remember thinking, “Is anybody talking to each other out there?” Supposedly, those days are over…let’s hope.
And speaking of organizations and philosophies that work: The Minnesota Twins tell their minor-league pitchers to quit worrying so much about hitting a molecule on the outside corner and concentrate on hitting the lower third of the strike zone…ANYWHERE in the lower third of the strike zone. Guess who leads the league year after year in fewest walks?
OK, I’m just about out of space and I still have leftover notes…maybe tomorrow.