Games » Los Angeles AngelsAug11
Clint Hurdle once told me that if you made more then half your outs by strikeouts and fly balls, you’d probably lose. The idea is that strikeouts and fly balls don’t put enough pressure on the defense. (On a fly ball, one guy has to do one thing: catch it. On a ground ball, two guys have to do three things: catch it, throw it and catch it again.) In this game, the Royals made 30 outs, 14 by strikeout and 11 in the air.
Apparently, the results were predictable.
The Royals’ offense is struggling, but they’ve had a fair number of lineouts and balls caught on the warning track that might’ve carried out in different conditions. To understand what you’re seeing, you should focus on the effort, not the results. Effort is controllable, results are not. The effort here wasn’t as bad as the results indicate.
In the seventh inning with runners at first and third and one down, Ned Yost chose not to pinch hit for Brayan Pena. I wondered whether he would. Brayan had already struck out against Jered Weaver twice, and Jason Kendall (a good situational hitter) was available. Yost let Pena hit, and he struck out for a third time. Easy to second-guess, but maybe the Royals want to let Pena hit in those situations to find out what he can do.
I once asked Hurdle if his job in the minors was to win or teach, and he said, “Teach, until we lose three in a row.”
Kendall sat out this game, so Mitch Maier hit in the two-hole. It made sense: Maier is a good situational hitter and, assuming your leadoff hitter has a high on-base percentage (I know…big assumption), you want a right-hander who goes the opposite way or a lefty who can pull the ball. Either one can take advantage of the hole created by a runner being held at first.
In the previous game, the Angels ran a suicide squeeze. The correct defense is for the third baseman to alert everyone that the runner’s going and for the pitcher to throw up and in on a right-handed batter (or pitch out on a lefty). The play is usually run with a right-handed hitter at the plate because it blocks the catcher’s view of the oncoming runner.
The Angels did a good job with their timing. The batter squares and the runner breaks when the pitcher’s front foot hits the ground, too late for him to change locations. Bryan Bullington said that’s just what happened and to top it off, he had a slider grip: a pitch that would be hard to use for buzzing the tower.
Right after the successful suicide squeeze, the Angels attempted a stolen base (Kendall threw him out). This is something you can watch for. Lots of managers like to strike during chaos. Catch the defense hanging their heads or losing focus over a previous play and you can turn a one-run inning into a rout.
Unless something dramatic happens, Billy Butler, Jason Kendall or Yuniesky Betancourt will be the team MVP, according to this method of evaluation. That makes sense to me. Every other position player has missed significant chunks of playing time for one reason or another.
Both Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar have put up 44-point games, but no pitcher has put up the 20 points per game average it would take to keep up with the position players. (If you’re only going to play every fifth day, you better be really good to be the MVP.)
When we started this project, I called Ron Polk, the legendary college coach who came up with this system, to make sure I understood the system and its scoring. I asked Ron about injuries: What if your best player got hurt and wasn’t able to put up points? Ron said, “Y’know, Lee, part of being good is actually getting on the field and playing.”
Think about this: If Mickey Mantle in his prime showed up and played one game for your team, he’d definitely be the best player on your roster, but would he be the most valuable? Did he contribute the most?
If you’re outraged by the idea that Betancourt or Kendall could be considered the most valuable player on this team, I have two pieces of advice: (A.) Get a life (B.) Remember, this system isn’t telling you who the best player on the team is. It’s telling you who has contributed the most. That’s an important and worthwhile distinction. And it’s the difference between how a fan thinks about the game and how an experienced coach thinks about the game.
I’m sticking with the experienced coach.