Games » Cleveland IndiansApr28
Two reasons the Royals are getting beat
Wow, this looked familiar. OK, there are two things pitchers do that get them whacked (actually, there are probably quite a bit more than two, but that’s all we’ll talk about for now).
Pitching behind…and you’re seeing both on this road trip.
Pitching up is pretty simple: “Up” is about mid-thigh to just above the belt. The hitter sees (and has a great chance to hit) the side of the ball, and that means line drives. Any higher and the hitter still sees the side of the ball, but has a hard time hitting it.
The barrel of the bat is above the shoulder and descending, so it’s hard to stay on top (a term you’ll hear) of a ball up around the letters. When a pitcher needs a pop-up or strikeout with a runner on third and less than two down, he can go up (but he better not miss) to get the desired results. So the Royals pitchers are “up”, but not up so high they can’t be hit. When a pitcher is “down,” the hitter sees the top of the ball and is likely to hit the top half for a grounder. (Here’s looking at you, Fausto Carmona!)
And grounders tend to be outs or singles: One has to be right down the line for extra bases. That’s why teams like tall pitchers and obsess about pitching on a downward plane. (It’s also why, when baseball wanted to give offense a boost, it lowered the mound.)
As for pitching behind: Good pitchers throw strike one (the best pitch in baseball) and then work toward the corners. Each pitch getting harder to hit. Bad pitchers throw ball one and then have to work back toward the middle of the plate, each pitch getting easier to hit.
Jeff Francis got lit up in the first inning of Wednesday’s game. Here are the counts when the ball was put in play and the results:
1-2 out/2-0 single/1-0 single/3-1 single/1-2 single/3-1 double/1-0 out/1-1 single/2-1 single and 3-2 out. Notice any pattern? With the exception of the 1-2 single (A flare Travis Hafner muscled in) and the 1-1 single, all the hits came when Francis was behind and had to bite off a bit more of the plate.
But if you start grooving fastballs 0-0 to get ahead, won’t hitters jump on them? Well, they can try, but in one five-year study of Division I baseball, the batting average on the 0-0 count was .186.
The longer a hitter stands there, the more information he gets about velocity, movement and location. Forcing the hitter to swing the bat as early as possible is to the pitcher’s advantage, but a lot of them fall behind in the count while trying to make perfect pitches.
And force is the right word. Good pitchers don’t avoid contact, they don’t allow contact, they force contact. (That’s right out of the Mental ABCs of Pitching, a guide to the thought process of successful pitchers.)
Ned Yost thinks the Royals have gotten sloppy about pitching up: getting away with it at home in a big ballpark and paying for it on the road. Geez, I hope he’s right, they need to get away with* something* in this next home stand.
These next nine games will tell us a lot about this season.
Pop fly areas of responsibility
That’s the actual name of a chart in baseball manuals, and it came into play in this game. Matt Treanor came out in front of the mound to catch a pop fly and Alex Gordon ran him off. The ball was probably Wilson Betemit’s, but he didn’t seem in any hurry to take change, so Gordon did.
Here’s the way it works: The center fielder can take any ball from a corner outfielder, any outfielder can call off any infielder, middle infielders can call off corner infielders (they have a better angle since they see the ball from the side), the shortstop can call off the second baseman, any infielder can call off the catcher and everybody treats the pitcher like Jerry Lewis should hold a telethon for him.
Nobody wants the pitcher handling the ball. He’s not out there every day and they generally don’t trust him to make the play, plus he’s got the mound to deal with. The catcher is the second-worst candidate for catching a pop up: he’s looking straight up (they’re easier when seen from the side) and he’s wearing all that gear, plus his mitt isn’t really designed for the task.
Nevertheless, Betemit appeared to be willing to let Treanor take his chances. Billy Butler did the same thing to Jason Kendall last season: stood by and watched Jason struggle with a ball in Billy’s area (pop flies are harder than you think). Fortunately, last night Gordon stepped in and took over.
One of the reasons I like Ron Polk’s evaluation system is it forces you to consider things that usually don’t get measured. Chris Getz has been benched (at least for a while) because of his batting average, but it seems like he does a lot to help a team win, even when he’s not hitting.
The only starters with a higher on-base percentage are Gordon, Francoeur, Butler and Betemit. He has five steals, four 8+ pitch plate appearances, has taken an extra base six times, made four outstanding plays on defense, broken up four double plays, has six sacrifices and made zero mental mistakes. None of that is spectacular, it’s just good, solid baseball.
On the other hand, if he’s not playing, he’s got more time to make videos, and I can always use a player with a good sense of humor.