Games » Chicago White SoxJul4
The intent to deceive
Well, here’s some top-notch baseball analysis: Balks are BS. The truth is, the rule is so vague that nobody really knows what a balk is. The rule says a balk is the “intent to deceive the runner.” So Mark Buerhle stepping semi-toward home plate is not an intent to deceive the runner, but Aaron Crow possibly lifting his hand or rotating his shoulder while stepping off the rubber is?
Like balls and strikes, balks are what umpires say they are. A very good baseball was game was ruined Monday night by observance of a ticky-tacky rule that was enforced because the umpires decided to enforce it. Letter of the law instead of spirit of the law: Happy Fourth of July. It’s America, get used to it.
Nothing is as perfect as you think
My wife once said that one of the biggest disappointments in her life was meeting me and finding out how the editorial page of The Kansas City Star actually conducted business. (I’m not sure whether meeting me or the editorial page was the real disappointment, but you get my drift.)
Once you’re on the inside of any organization, it becomes a lot less awe-inspiring. If you work in a restaurant, you know what goes on in the kitchen. If you’re a cop, you know what laws are observed and which ones aren’t. A friend of mine who is a physician asked me what they call the person who graduates last in his class from medical school. The answer is “doctor.”
Baseball is no different. A game in Seattle was just screwed up when the umpire let a San Diego batter take a base on ball three. The scoreboard operator (a human who is supposed to push the right button, but didn’t) had the count wrong and nobody noticed — not the four umpires, not the two managers and not the players on the two teams. Of course, the batter, who shouldn’t have been on base, scored the game-winning run.
Scorekeepers are making educated guesses that are then protested by various people in the press box and sometimes changed. (More on that shortly.) The pitch speeds on the scoreboard can be fudged. Websites will say a guy threw a slider, and the pitcher involved will tell you he doesn’t have a slider. The guys who do zone ratings make estimates of what kind of ball was put in play and where it landed. I get a bit skeptical when guys start making arguments that assume all the numbers we look at are completely accurate. Nothing is as perfect as you think.
Including balk calls.
Speaking of imperfection
Here are three at-bats from Monday night that are worth looking at for what they reveal:
Alex Rios, fourth inning, strikeout: Jeff Francis had a runner on third and two outs. Rios is at the plate. Jeff started Rios off with a curve for a strike at 71 mph. Rios took it. Francis then threw him a changeup at 76 mph. Rios swung and was a mile out in front. At that point, Jeff could have come inside, but I was hoping he wouldn’t. Rios was out in front, keep him out in front. Don’t solve a hitter’s problem for him. Francis didn’t. He threw another change-up at 77 mph, and Rios swung and missed. A veteran pitch by a veteran pitcher.
Ramon Castro, fifth inning, home run. Francis had Castro 2-2 and threw a change-up at 77 mph. Castro hit it a mile, but it landed foul. Once again, a hitter is out in front. Don’t solve his problem for him. This time, Francis came back with an 84 mph sinker in almost the exact same spot, and the results were predictable: Castro no longer was out in front because of the increased pitch speed, and he hit it a mile, but fair.
Adam Dunn, eighth inning, home run. Aaron Crow throws two 96 mph fastballs and has Dunn at 1-1. Dunn fouls the second fastball almost straight back. This tells you his timing is good (he’s not late or out in front), but he’s under the ball. When a pitcher sees the ball fouled straight back, he has two options: change speeds (mess up his timing) or climb the ladder (keep him under the ball). But don’t solve his problem for him by throwing the next pitch at the same speed but lower. The next pitch was another 96 mph fastball, but lower, and Dunn golfed it out of the park.
To be fair, a pitcher can’t always follow the philosophy I just laid out. (Keep feeding a hitter the same pitch until he proves he can hit it.) There are guys who adjust. If you go to the well too often on them, they will make you pay. But Dunn was hitting .171, and Castro was hitting .227. They wouldn’t seem to be two guys who have had a lot of success adjusting. When a hitter’s is scuffling, DON’T SOLVE HIS PROBLEM FOR HIM.
OK. The ball is hit like a rocket, and it goes through Mike Moustakas’ legs. E5, right? Gordon Beckham initially was awarded a hit. In the Kansas City press box, when some play is scored in a way that raises eyebrows, someone (who usually has something at stake) may go over to the official scorer and have a chat. Sometimes the scoring gets changed. (That’s how scientific it is.)
(At one point, I was asked whether I would be interested in being an official scorer, but I felt having two jobs that I’m unqualified to hold was enough.)
Anyway, the hit was changed to an error, and that probably was the right call. But there was an interesting factor that might have been considered. Mike had his hands underneath the ball when it went through his legs.
An infielder can get into trouble when he “plays above the ball.” That means his glove is above the ball until it arrives and then goes down to make the catch. Any weird hop that keeps the ball down and the ball scoots through. Infielders are taught to “play beneath the ball.” That means the infielder’s glove is under the ball and comes up when the ball arrives. The only thing the ball can do then is come up on a weird hop, and that should send it into the fielder’s body.
Moustakas was in the right position. The ball came up but somehow managed to just sneak through his legs. Had the ball been three inches higher, Moose would be singing soprano in the Vienna Boys Choir.
So, back to that pesky rule book. Any ball that takes a bad hop can be ruled a hit, and Mike clearly got some kind of weird hop. But that’s not the way it usually is scored, and, just like making a balk call, because that’s the way everyone calls it, it became an E5.
One last thing
Eric Hosmer almost got picked off in the sixth inning. (Gee, how did that happen? I mean Mark Buehrle couldn’t have been trying to deceive a runner, could he?) How Eric got back to first base is instructive. It shows how every part of the game has been examined and broken down.
A runner at first has a key, a part of the pitcher’s body that he’s watching. What happens with that body part tells the runner whether to take his secondary lead or get back to first. When the body part says “get back,” the runner starts with a crossover step (almost everything in baseball starts with a crossover step), right foot crossing over in front of left. If the runner took his first step with his left foot, it would be a very short step. Crossing over with his right foot gives him a longer step.
After the crossover step, the runner dives to the bag, but here’s the cool part: He reaches for the corner of the bag that is closest to the outfield with his right hand because that makes the first baseman reach further for the tag. That was what Hosmer did, and he was safe because of it.
But I’m still P.O.’d about that balk call.