Games » Minnesota TwinsJun2
Leading by example
Well, this wasn’t much of a game from the Royals’ point of view, but there were a couple bright spots. Joakim Soria threw two innings and looked like the old Soria, Nate Adcock came in when Sean O’Sullivan couldn’t finish the third and saved the bullpen from further damage, Alcides Escobar put on his nightly show of robbing opposition hitters and Jeff Francoeur led by example.
So how did he do that?
In a game that was over after the top of the third, Frenchy continued to play like it was 0-0 in extra innings. In the 8th inning, down by six runs, Jeff hit a ball into the right field corner and busted a gut turning it into a triple. That was on top of the two doubles and two runs he’d already driven in.
Before the game, we talked about leadership and I asked him if a rumor I’d heard was true: there are pictures on the Royals clubhouse walls of current players, but when the team arrived here from spring training, there was one additional picture, a photo of the top minor-league prospects. Frenchy made them take it down.
Jeff said, yeah, it was true. He meant no disrespect to the guys in the minors or the job the organization had done to prepare for the future, but those guys were still in the minors. The guys that were here shouldn’t assume they were just holding someone else’s job for a while, the guys that were here should win now. Don’t think about 2012, go out, play your butts off and win a ballgame today.
After Louis Coleman gave up a couple home runs the other day, he was sitting on the bench feeling down. Frenchy walked by and gave him a shot to the ribs (Jeff laughed and said it was actually pretty firm) and told Coleman to get his head up, the team was going to need him the next day.
When the players had to wear pink shoes and use pink bats on a Sunday (everybody was dragging after a night game), Jeff picked everybody by taking BP in his new pink cleats and his underwear. He told me that was nothing: after a prolonged losing streak in the National League, Jeff said he was going to break the streak by taking nude BP (he used the indoor cage), hitting in nothing but his shoes and a pair of batting gloves. His teammates howled and then went out and scored 11 runs.
Jeff said you’ve got to know when someone needs a kick in the pants, a pat on the back or a big laugh to improve the mood. It’s a long season, and a guy like Jeff Francoeur makes it go by a little easier. If you want to know how to approach the game, teammates or life, watch Jeff Francoeur.
He leads by example.
Speaking of which
Francoeur hit a two-out, RBI double in the 5th, but if Alex Gordon hadn’t broken up a double play in that inning, Jeff would never have come to the plate. Hustling down to second when you know you’ll be out just to give your team one extra at-bat is the epitome of team play. Despite being down by six, Gordon was still playing hardball.
When Francoeur was talking to me about leadership, he said he was really proud of the way Aaron Crow has handled being given the closer’s role. One of the perks of being the closer is not going to the bullpen right away. It’s more comfortable to be on the bench and have access to the clubhouse for 5 or 6 innings.
Frenchy said Crow realized that perk was for veteran closers and has been going to the bullpen at the same time as everybody else. Part of what guys like Jeff Francoeur and Jason Kendall are paid to do is teach the next generation the right approach to the game.
Jeff said when he was in Atlanta, John Smoltz would hang around after his work was done in spring training and work with young pitchers. The same young pitchers that were hoping to replace John Smoltz. I’m sure some of those guys have never forgotten the way Smoltz treated them and are now doing the same thing for somebody else.
Just don’t get hurt
The pitchers are starting to take BP to prepare for interleague play. I’d never thought about it before, but you can get a blister really fast, even if you wear batting gloves, when taking batting practice. You’ve got to develop callouses to hit pitch after pitch. So are the Royals worried about pitchers getting blisters?
Definitely. The pitchers mainly work on bunting and then only get 10 “easy” hacks each. Kevin Seitzer said a successful at-bat for a pitcher in interleague plays is one in which a pitcher doesn’t get hurt. I asked who had the best hack among the pitchers and he let me know they were all better than me, but the best swing belonged to Sean O’Sullivan.
Kevin gives me the team’s inside hitting stats once a month (if I remember to ask), and the numbers are always interesting. Seitzer keeps track of Quality Plate Appearances (hits, hard hit outs, walks and 8+ pitch at-bats) and Situational Batting Average (the percentage of times players succeed sacrifice bunting, moving the runner over from second with nobody out and driving in a run from third with less than 2 outs).
Anything over .425 in Quality Plate Appearances is excellent and you’ll find many of the usual suspects there: Butler .489, Betemit .429, Francoeur .426, but how about Mitch Maier at .552 or Chris Getz at .462? Matt Treanor is at .442.
Remember the last three guys don’t face everybody and that would affect their numbers.
Some of the best situation batting averages belong to Eric Hosmer .800 (anything over .700 is excellent), Getz .813, Betemit .813, Gordon .786 and Aviles .778. I asked Mitch Maier, who always seem to deal well with situational hitting if the key was getting the right pitch for the job (a pitch he can pull to move the runner or a pitch up for a sac fly). Mitch said he just tries to get something in the middle of the plate and hit it hard and most of the time that works out.
Which brings us to
Hitters hit mistakes. Jason Kendall made that point to me when I was admiring the bat he used to get his 2,000th hit. Jason said about 1,800 of those hits were on pitches down the middle. Jason said however many hits Billy Butler has in his career, he’d be willing to bet about 75% of them were on pitches down the middle.
Kendall thinks hitters sometimes make the game too hard by trying to hit pitcher’s pitches. Nasty, borderline stuff that’s hard to square up (some nights you have to because the guy on the mound is just that good and won’t give you anything better), but most of the time hitters would be better off looking in the middle of the plate all the time. That’s where the hittable stuff is.
In Ron Poll’s massive Baseball Playbook, he talks about pitch selection. He said suppose the average pitcher throws seven pitches: two are great, two are awful and three are average ones. That’s why he’s considered an average pitcher. Ron’s theory is it’s a crime to swing at a great pitch from an average pitcher when you had five average-to-lousy pitches on the way.
The opposite holds true for great pitchers: if you get something at all hittable, get it in play. A bunch of tough pitches are on the way. Chris Getz said the same thing: if he gets anything hittable from Verlander, he’s hacking because if he doesn’t handle that pitch he’s in trouble. With a lesser pitcher, Getz can afford to take a strike.
Bottom line? I think Kendall is right: hitters hit mistakes and if you get one, take advantage.