Games » Chicago CubsJun26
Little things mean a lot
Lately I’ve been talking about the little things that can win or lose a ballgame and I don’t see any reason to stop now.
In the top of the 4th inning, Jeff Francoeur hustled to the right field line and came up with a throw that prevented Alfonso Soriano from scoring from first on a double and that saved a run. In the bottom of the 4th inning, Chris Getz drove in Matt Treanor from second and, when the throw went home, hustled into scoring position himself. That turned into a run when Eric Hosmer singled later in the inning. In the 6th inning, with a runner on third, Luke Hochevar threw a cutter in the dirt and Matt Treanor blocked it, saving a run.
The Royals won 6-3.
Without the plays I just described, the Cubs would have had two more runs and the Royals one less: that’s 5-5 and a tie ballgame. I could’ve found some other plays or pitches that changed the outcome of the game. They’re constantly happening while we all watch, but many of them go unnoticed.
Neither team knows what plays will be significant until the game is over. That’s why they talk so much about playing the game the ‘right way’: Hustle all the time. Run everything out, you never know. Pound the strike zone. Battle during every at-bat. Give nothing away and take all you can.
It’s not only the right way to play the game, it’s the right way to watch it: every pitch is important if you know what to look for.
One pitch’s importance
OK, let me prove what I’m saying: In the 3rd inning, Luke Hochevar was 2-1 on Geovany Soto. Luke then threw ball three. If Luke had thrown a strike (let’s assume that Soto doesn’t swing) the count goes to 2-2. Luke is then in a position of not having to throw a strike until he gets to 3-2. He can expand the zone. He can throw off-speed. He can start something in the zone and have it run out. He can try to throw a perfect pitch on the corner. He has a lot of options.
But he didn’t throw a strike, he threw ball three.
So now he has to throw a strike. He can’t try to be perfect and hit a corner. He can’t expand the zone or run a pitch off the plate. He has to throw something that he can control and he’s got to bite off enough of the zone to make sure he gets the call.
Luke threw a 93-mph 4-seamer (a straight fastball) pretty much down the middle. Soto hammered it for a home run. One pitch can change everything. Pay close attention and you’ll see one pitch change everything, every night.
How to talk to a pitcher
Aaron Crow was walking through the clubhouse flipping a ball up and down so I took the opportunity to ask him to show me his grips. This is a sure-fire conversation starter with any pitcher. You could be having dinner with the queen of England, the president of the United States and Jesus, and if a pitcher was there and you asked to see his grips, he’d forget the other dinner guests, grab a dinner roll and start to demonstrate.
Aaron showed me the grips for his 2-seamer (it runs down and in to righties), his 4-seamer (a straight fastball he uses when he’s trying to hit an exact spot), his slider and his curveball. The curveball was interesting: it was a pretty standard looking knuckle curve (forefinger curled in and middle finger pulling down on the front seam of the ball), but he also uses his thumb to push up on the seam positioned on the back of the ball. I’d never heard that one before. Imagine holding a can of soup at the bottom and then throwing it end over end and you’ll get the idea.
(The can of soup thing is actually a good way to teach an overhand curve, and ruin a can of soup.)
Then Aaron showed me his change-up and went through three different grips. I asked, why so many? “Because none of them work.” He’s searching for a grip that gives him the action he wants (he doesn’t care about movement, but needs deceptive velocity) and just hasn’t found one that works consistently yet.
Speaking of pitches
I asked Joakim Soria what he uses to get ahead of a hitter. Fastball, slider, change - turns out he’ll throw any of them to start an at-bat. How about the overhand curve, ever start a batter off with that? “No chance.” Turns out Joakim doesn’t want the batter to see that pitch until he’s ready to put him away. So when you’re watching Soria, look for that pitch once he’s ahead in the count.
Two very different ball players
What would you think of a player who was on pace to strike out 114 times, hit .264 and have a .311 on-base percentage? No thanks, right? I mean who would want that guy on their team?
OK, then, how about a player who was on pace to hit 37 doubles, 20 home runs, steal 23 bases and drive in 95 runs? Now that’s a little more like it, wouldn’t you say?
Well, they’re both the same guy, Jeff Francoeur. The point of this exercise is to remind everybody (including me) that selectively looking at just a few stats while ignoring others isn’t a very good way to evaluate a player. Everybody has strengths and limitations. Look exclusively at one or the other and you’re not seeing the whole picture.
The other thing to remember is the phrase “on pace” is pretty much a load of BS. It makes it sound like a .300 hitter gets three hits every time he goes to the plate 10 times, like whatever the player’s numbers are now will continue at that pace for the rest of the season or the rest of his career. Guys get hot and cold. They face people they dominate and people who dominate them. It is not a steady ride. Let me pick the stat and I can probably make any player look like a hero or a mutt.
And speaking of looking like a hero: Frenchy had three hits in this game. I asked if that was because of him or the pitchers he faced? Did he do something different or was it the same approach, but he got better pitches to hit?
Turns out it was a little of both. He said he laid off the extreme inside pitches and relaxed. Try to hit the ball too hard, you muscle up, your head moves when you swing and everything falls apart. Let yourself hit the ball, stay within yourself, don’t try to do too much, take what the pitcher gives you, let the game come to you and you’ll rake.
(I’m on pace to set a record for baseball clichés.)
One last thing
When Paul Rudd, Rob Riggle and Horatio Sanz were here, Frenchy was the real star. He was in fine form, making everybody, including the comedians, crack up. Afterwards, I saw him in the clubhouse and said, “It’s only a matter of time, dude, you’ll be in one of their movies.”
“I could picture you as a psycho killer.”
Giant grin, “But a funny psycho killer!”
Got to admit it: he was born to play the part.