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Throwing a four seam with Royals Chris Getz and Lee Judge
Kansas City Royals second baseman Chris Getz shows the Star's Lee Judge how to throw a four seam ball. April 27, 2011 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)
What's an 'ambush'?
You probably already have heard that Jeff Francis and the Royals got ‘ambushed’ Saturday afternoon in Detroit. So what’s that actually mean? The Tigers leadoff hitter, Austin Jackson, took the first pitch of the game for a strike. After that, six straight Tigers hitters went after the first pitch that was in the zone. They probably saw some pattern of Francis trying to get ahead early in the count, and they decided to take that away from him by being aggressive.
This strategy can backfire if you don’t get hits. If you swing early and make outs, the pitcher can walk away with an easy inning and prolong his appearance. But if the ambush strategy works, you can get ahead quickly.
It worked for the Tigers on Saturday.
Francis gave up hits on a 2-1 change-up, an 0-0 fastball, a sacrifice bunt on an 1-0 sinker (a great pitch to bunt because it already is sinking), an 0-0 change-up and an 0-0 fastball. At that point, Royals pitching coach Bob McClure came to the mound. After the visit, Francis threw his first 0-0 curve (so I’m guessing pitch selection was discussed), and even though he gave up a weak single, he was back in control of the game.
Looking at the following at-bats, you could see Jeff started throwing more first-pitch curve balls. Even if he didn’t throw them for strikes, it seemed to mess with the hitters timing … unfortunately, it was too late.
Because the Royals got ambushed.
Other game stuff
*If you keep a scorebook when watching the game, good for you, your parents raised you right and you’re a credit to mankind. If you don’t do this already, find some device to mark hard outs. Jeff Francoeur was 1-3 in this game, but he could have easily been 3-3. Recording hard outs gives you a better idea of how a player is performing than recording hits alone. (This probably is why Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer keeps the same stat.)
*Mike Aviles generally rakes, but finding a consistent spot for him defensively has been a problem. To be fair, Mike has been asked to play three different positions, and that’s not easy. His ability to turn the double play at second base has been a concern, and another chance was missed in this game. When you get to talk with a player, you often find out something that changes your evaluation of a situation, but it’s something for fans to keep an eye on.
*Jose Valverde behaves like a jackass on the mound. (Note to editor: If I can’t say the word ‘jackass’ substitute the word ’jerk’, but I really do mean ‘jackass’. Besides, we ran ads for the movie ‘Jackass’ so what’s the difference?) Anyway, Valverde pulls off a lot of antics that are designed to get him attention, and the opposition hates it. You know who else probably hates it? A bunch of his teammates. That kind of stuff causes unnecessary friction and raises issues nobody needs to deal with. The fans in Kansas City may have enjoyed Jose Lima and “Lima Time,” but more than one teammate didn’t appreciate the show. The phrase “Act like you’ve been there before” was invented for those guys.
“Perfect is the enemy of good”
That’s an old baseball saying, and possibly a future tattoo. It means that when you’re going good and good isn’t good enough, trying to be perfect will mess things up. Just look at Joakim Soria. Bob Dutton, The Star’s Royals beat writer, just reported that Soria’s attempt to add a cutter to his arsenal may have screwed up the release point of his other pitches.
This is a real dilemma for players. Everyone wants to be better, right? So how do you decide when you’re as good as you’re going to get? When players talk about “staying within themselves” or “not trying to do too much,” that’s what they’re talking about. Time has shown them what they can do, and if they try to do more, they’ll mess up.
This is the reason baseball coaches sometimes wait until a player bottoms out before stepping in. The player’s really scuffling, what he’s doing isn’t working and how bad could I mess him up with another approach?
The coach’s nightmare is tinkering with a guy who’s going good and sending him into a tailspin. When you’re going good, you often don’t know why you’re going good. That’s why players obsess about keeping everything the same when they’re in a hot streak (I’m not sure it’s because of this pair of socks, but I’m not going to mess with it) and make dramatic changes when they’re slumping (shaving my head couldn’t hurt).
PERSONAL ANECDOTE: I once was going so bad that Russ Morman instructed me to burn my hat as way to exorcise my baseball demons. Either that, or Russ just thought it would be funny to get me to destroy my hat. So after another game of weak grounders punctuated by line outs, I went to the parking lot and asked one of my teammates if he had any matches.
“No, but I’ve got an M-80 in the car.”
Two amazing things about this story: What an M-80 will do to a baseball cap, and I had a teammate that carried M-80s around in his car.
So who were we talking about? Oh, yeah: Soria. Should he junk his cutter or now that he knows what effect it had, can he keep it and adjust on the other pitches? I’ve got no clue, but it will be interesting to watch and find out.
And good reporting, Bob. (By the way, what I do would not be possible without Bob Dutton. He’s shown me the ropes and even tried to prevent me from hanging myself with one or two. Without his solid Royals reporting, I couldn’t assume readers know what happened in the game and then concentrate on some tiny detail. I owe Bob a lot. We’re even now, aren’t we?)
(A reader asked for this, and it seemed like a good idea.)
OK. You’re watching the ballgame and want to know what pitch just got thrown. How can you tell? If you pay attention (put down that beer for a second), there are several things that will help you recognize pitches and here they are:
RELEASE POINT: When a pitcher throws a fastball, it will come out of his hand hard and flat. It will come out on a down angle. When the pitcher throws a curve, you’ll see a funny little twist of the wrist, and the pitch will appear to come out above the hand. Change-up, same thing without the flip. The ball will appear to come out above the hand.
Time out for science: A four-seam fastball is released with the fingers on top of the ball, and the fingers snap down (creating the down angle). A cutter (and you won’t be able to tell the difference with the naked eye) is released with the fingers slightly off to the side. A slider, the fingers are more off to the side and on an overhand curve, the fingers are pulling down on the front of the ball (think of throwing a can of soup end over end … which is actually a good way to learn the curveball … and ruin a can of soup).
So the difference between a curve and fast ball release is pretty different, but the slider and fastball release points look very similar. So now what?
TRAJECTORY: Fast balls will stay hard and flat (wow, this is starting to sound dirty), and off-speed pitches will lose some steam (not sure that phrase got us out of the gutter). You will see the ball lose velocity and start to dip when it’s an off-speed pitch. The more off-speed, the more dip. What’s next?
THE HITTER: If a hitter stays balanced and takes a good, hard rip, you probably just saw a fastball. If the hitter can’t stay back and begins to lunge forward, you probably just saw something off-speed. If the hitter stays back and it’s a curve ball, you probably just saw a good hitter … or one that stole a sign and knew what was coming. Okey-dokey, now where do you look?
THE SCOREBOARD: Radar-gun readings are notoriously inaccurate and sometimes it’s not an accident. (In the past, the Royals have been accused of juicing the radar readings a few mph to excite the crowd.) Having said that, you still can use the posted speeds to figure out a pitcher’s fastball range (and they add and subtract a few miles an hour in an effort to mess up the hitter’s timing … so don’t be fooled). But if a pitch is dramatically slower (say 10 mph or more) you’ve just seen something off-speed.
If you keep watching this stuff, it will eventually come to you. The subtle differences will get more noticeable, and you’ll be able to amaze and irritate your friends by announcing what pitch was just thrown.
And if all that doesn’t work, check out MLB.com like the rest of us. You really think we can spot a 92-mph cutter without help?