Games » Detroit TigersMay13
Why you have to play small ball
If you’re going to beat the best pitchers, you need to play small ball. Justin Verlander proved that again Friday night. When a guy is this good, three-run home runs are in short supply. Waiting for a couple of walks and a home run is like waiting for Donald Trump to show modesty; it ain’t gonna happen.
The better the pitcher, the fewer the hits. Hoping to get three in an inning, or a walk and two hits, or two walks and a hit or three of any darn thing isn’t a very good game plan. You need to be able to move runners with outs and you’ll have no shortage of those.
(I believe you have to be able to play one-run baseball in the playoffs. The further you go, the better the pitching gets. When I read “Moneyball” I thought, “Sounds like a great way to win 90 games and lose in the first round.”)
What you mainly do on offense is make outs. There are people who talk about how precious outs are and how they must be preserved (let’s all stand around, maybe nothing bad will happen), but every time you lose a game you’re absolutely guaranteed to make 27 outs. You can’t really save them, they will get used. So how about getting something out of them? How about making productive outs?
Case in point: Down 3-1 in the 8th inning, Matt Treanor leads off with a double. Alcides Escobar grounds out to third, Treanor can’t advance because the ball is hit in front of him, Chris Getz makes the second out 4-3 and Melky Cabrera flies out to end the inning. If Escobar hits the ball to the right side, Treanor advances and then scores on Getz’s groundout (they wouldn’t bring the infield in unless Treanor was the tying run).
Now the Royals would be down 3-2 in the 9th which Alex Gordon led off with a single. He then stole second while Billy Butler was at the plate. If Billy had been able to hit the ball to the right side (he struck out), Alex would’ve advanced to third and scored on Jeff Francoeur’s fly ball or at least tried to score. Game tied 3-3.
To be fair, both Escobar and Butler appeared to be trying to hit the ball the other way, they just didn’t get it done. When you face a No. 1 guy at the top of his game, you won’t get many chances to score runs. The Royals missed two in this game.
(I realize there are knowledgeable baseball fans who will disagree with me. Fine, you get to go to the comment section and tell me why I’m wrong. But be funny while you do it.)
In the 6th inning with Chris Getz at the plate, Alcides Escobar took off from first. Chris hit the ball to the right side and, unlucky for him, the shortstop was covering second, so the second baseman stayed home. If the second baseman was covering the bag, the ball would’ve gone through for a hit and Esky would’ve been on third.
When there’s a runner on first, before every pitch, the middle infielders shield their mouths with their gloves and exchange a sign to decide who’s covering the bag if the runner takes off. Whoever is making the call either opens his mouth (you) or closes his mouth (me). It resembles the way your mouth looks when you say those words. If the pitch is a heater (and there are factors that might change this), the opposite side fielder will stay home. If it’s off-speed, the pull side fielder will stay home.
Since Chris is a lefty and the pitch was a curveball (more likely to be pulled), the second baseman stayed home and Getz lost a hit.
The other half of the game
Everyone is excited about Eric Hosmer’s bat and they should be, but don’t miss what he’s doing on defense. Last Sunday when Wilson Betemit launched a Superman throw (Up, up and away!), Hosmer didn’t get the out, but kept the ball on the infield. He also made a couple of nice plays in New York. In this game he knocked down a throw from Alex Gordon (he was throwing behind a runner) and helped Alcides Escobar turn another web gem with a stretch.
Last season some people objected to Ron Polk’s system, saying it favored catchers and middle infielders (you’re right, it does, but I think he was trying to demonstrate what a good defender up the middle does for a team). I disagreed with people who said a first baseman had little chance to score points defensively. First base handles the ball defensively more often than anyone but the catcher. Every time someone bounces a throw, the first baseman has a chance to score points. Billy Butler had 16 defensive points all of last season, Hosmer already has six.
I’ve written a lot about what a catcher that blocks well does for a pitcher’s confidence: the pitcher can throw his nastiest stuff and believe his teammate will handle it. Hosmer is now doing the same thing for the infield: they just have to get it in the vicinity and he’ll will take care of them.
A new stat
How about a new stat? RKO. Run kept out. If they kept this statistic, Matt Treanor would have another one with a textbook block of home in the 3rd inning. Matt kept Austin Jackson from touching home plate with his left foot while catching the ball from Francoeur/Hosmer. Whenever you think of RBIs or hits on the offensive side, ask what the player does for you on the defensive side. Treanor and Escobar don’t need to drive as many in if they can keep some out. So far they have.
The running game
When the Royals are home, Jason Kendall calls the defensive running game. He lets the pitcher and catcher know when to go over, pitch out or hold the ball in the set. It’s one less thing for the pitcher to worry about. When the Royals are on the road, John Gibbons does the job. There may be more I don’t know about, but that means at least three guys are giving signs from the dugout on defense: Eddie Rodriguez for the infield, Doug Sisson for the outfield and Kendall or Gibbons for catcher and pitcher. Lots going on out there.