Games » Texas RangersApr23
Kila crushes one
In the seventh inning of this game, Kila Ka’aihue hit an absolute rocket into the upper deck for his second home run of the season. I know some people are clamoring (actually, I have no idea how you ‘clamor,’ but people seem to do it in books all the time) for Kila’s demotion and the elevation of whichever wonder kid is currently tearing the cover off the ball in the minor leagues.
Just a word of warning. (I made this point in a comment yesterday, but it’s worth repeating.) Kila also tore the cover off the ball in the minor leagues. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that some of the people who think Clint Robinson or Eric Hosmer need to be up here were saying the same thing about Kila Ka’aihue not so long ago.
The last step in professional baseball is a tough one. I once asked my buddy Russ Morman why he crushed AAA pitching, but couldn’t do the same in the big leagues. “Three to five miles an hour they don’t have in the minors. The pitch I’m hitting off the wall in Triple A, I’m fouling back in the big leagues.”
After facing Jeff Montgomery in Kansas City’s Men’s Senior League, I asked how the hell anyone ever hit him. (My best swing produced a screaming line drive … sideways, almost killing the on-deck hitter.) Jeff said he lost 3 mph and that was it. Kevin Seitzer says the difference in big league pitchers is not just velocity, but increased movement and deception. Minor league hitters simply haven’t experienced this level of pitching.
So just remember, no matter how good these guys look in the minors, they’re in the minors and adjusting to big league pitching can take awhile. Just ask Alex Gordon.
One of the huge advantages I’ve had while doing this project was at least *some experience playing the game (poorly and in a men’s amateur league), but I know what’s it like to at least attempt to make some of the plays I see. I think every sports writer (and maybe sports fan) should go out and try to do the stuff they see, unless you follow bullfighting.
(By the way, George Brett once told me he had a clause in his contract that said no bullfighting, along with no skydiving, no rock climbing, etc., but the most interesting part of that story is that you know some baseball player got hammered and decide to fight a bull. I would like to have seen that.)
OK, where was I?
Oh yeah, people who have played the game have a better idea of what’s happening than people who haven’t and that includes scorekeepers. In Friday’s game Melky Cabrera hit a grounder to Ian Kinsler. The ball hit the lip of the infield, took a wicked hop and came up hitting Ian in the chest … and the scorekeeper gave him an error. After reviewing the play overnight, that’s been changed to a hit. I’ll bet the scorekeeper never played the game.
Either that, or he’s a pitcher. Those guys don’t think anything’s a hit.
*More rain in this game, which reminds me of something Chris Getz told me right before he left for Texas: When the Royals use a defensive shift (against say, Jim Thome) the shortstop moves up the middle or even to the right side and second base goes out on the grass to play a kind of rover. But when it gets wet Chris Getz stays on the dirt to avoid getting a soaked baseball. He says it’s like throwing a cream pie and you’re not real sure where it’s going. Another factor out there is that infield lip: when a ball hits that, anything can happen .
I’m going back and throwing a mental mistake on Wilson Betemit for last Thursday’s game. A ball was lined out to Alex Gordon and the runners on first and second had to hold up to see if it would drop and it did. This is a danged if you do or don’t play for the base runner, but holding back is the right move. If you take off and you’re wrong, it’s a double play. If you stay near the bag and you’re wrong, it’s one out on a force out, which is what happened. Wilson’s mistake was coming off the bag, catching the ball and going for the tag, forgetting it was a force. (To be fair, it’s a weird play that also had my scorebook screwed up…people walk by and think what I’m doing is so interesting they want to stop and talk about it…say, how *do you juggle chain saws?…Uh, concentrate?) It’s the second time Betemit has forgotten the bases were loaded (once was on offense). Two plays is not a pattern, but it’s worth watching.
*If you wondering why I give so much weight to a catcher’s ability to block the ball, listen to what Indian’s pitcher Chris Perez said after giving up Melky Cabrera’s two-RBI-game-winning single on Thursday night: even though he had Melky down in the count Perez was afraid to throw his slider with a runner on third. A good defensive catcher keeps all the pitcher’s pitches in play…a bad one loses ball games.
That’s why I automatically give an outstanding play to a block with a runner on third: it’s a run right then and more down the road because of what it does for a pitcher’s psyche. That policy developed after talking to some players…and if it’s a particularly difficult block I’ll do it at other times also.
That’s why Matt Treanor is currently ahead of Billy Butler in this system: Matt gets points on defense and Billy doesn’t…even when he plays. I know a lot of you hate the points awarded and I’ve stuck with them mainly because I figure Ron Polk knows more about baseball than the rest of us combined, but I did consider throwing them out after the first season.
All the players I talked to didn’t care about the points and weren’t inclined to sit and argue over who had the best game or whether a save is actually worth 6 points or whether Hitler would’ve won WWII if Superman had been on his side. But they did all like the patterns: Wilson Betemit needs to pay attention kind of stuff.
So ignore the points if they bug you. I don’t know how accurate they are anyway. IS a block with a runner on third an outstanding play? I’ve decided it is, someone else may feel differently. But the points are useful in some ways: this is one of the few systems that allow you to think about superior defense and what it’s worth in relation to offense. Say Billy gets four singles, but drives in no runs and scores none and Matt blocks two pitches with a runner on third. Didn’t Matt affect the game more than Billy? But you know who’s getting the headlines the next day.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying I’m right or that this is the way to look at baseball, but I will say this thing was put together by a freaking baseball genius (look at his resume) and it makes you think about the game in some interesting ways. There’s a reason hundreds of college teams have been using this system for a couple decades. That still doesn’t mean you should take it as gospel, it’s just one more thing to take into account while you indulge in the American Pastime.