Games » Detroit TigersJul9
What I learned at the ball game
The first thing I learned at the ballpark is that it takes a long time to score 19 runs. I learned that Luke Hochevar doesn’t know what’s going wrong either. (He leads the team in appearances in which the pitcher gives up more than four earned runs, or basically the opposite of a quality start.) I learned that if you’re going to give up four hits in an inning, mixing in three walks makes everything worse. I learned that the Tigers have been starting Jeff Francoeur with off-speed stuff in order to slow his bat down before they give him a fastball. And I learned that Justin Verlander is going to be tough Sunday afternoon and hitters are going to tee off on the first hittable pitches they see, so they don’t fall behind.
I learned that we might see a quick ballgame today.
Think small in action
I recently laid out the “think small” philosophy of baseball. A “watch the pennies and the dollars take care of themselves” kind of a deal. (Who knew Ben Franklin was a baseball fan?) I try to follow the same guidelines when writing about a game. If everyone is gathered around Billy Butler to hear him talk about getting three hits (he said he got some good pitches to handle), do you really need me to go over the same ground?
When so many people are covering the big stuff, like the starting pitcher, I figure I’ll find something else, such as Matt Treanor breaking up a double play in the second inning. Wilson Betemit led the inning off with a single, then went first to third when Treanor followed with another single. Then Alcides Escobar hit a ground ball and Matt did his job, hustling down to second and making the pivot man jump over him.
Esky was safe at first, so instead of two outs and a runner on third, there was one out and runners on first and third. Chris Getz hit a single, and Betemit scored. Then Melky Cabrera struck out. Without Treanor’s hustle, that’s the end of the inning. Because Matt busted it going down to second, Billy Butler got a chance to drive in two more runs.
I love finding this small stuff that makes a big difference, and players appreciate someone noticing plays that will never make it in the box score.
If Chris Getz is so smart, why did he get trapped off base?
By the bottom of the fifth inning, the Royals had scored nine runs, and you would think they could relax. Unfortunately, Luke Hochevar and some spotty defense had made the score 9-6 with a lot of baseball left to play. Tacking on a run would be a huge psychological lift and strike a blow against the Tigers’ hopes of climbing back into the game.
There’s one down. Escobar and Getz have walked. Melky Cabrera lines a ball up the middle. Eddie Rodriguez waves Esky home, but it looks like it will be close … until Getz breaks for third. This is a base-running trick you willl see veterans use when they are willing to trade an out for a run.
Break in front of the cutoff man, and see if you can get him to bite. Melky Cabrera has pulled the same thing several times. The Tigers might have been able to get Escobar out at home. Getz offered them a sure thing in exchange for a run. Miguel Cabrera took the offer, and the Royals got their tack-on run.
What are friends for?
I tried out my “Mike-Moustakas-should-drive-Eric-Hosmer-to-the-ballpark-every-night-because-Hosmer-keeps-digging-Moustakas-throws-out-of-the-dirt” theory on Eric Hosmer. Eric totally agreed and said he would settle for a nice dinner financed by Moustakas. Next Moose came by, and I repeated my reasoning and got a classic answer:
“How is Hos ever going to win a Gold Glove if every throw is perfect?”
Wow. Gotta tip my hat to Moose for that answer. Maybe Hos owes him a dinner.
Well, duh …
I’m only a year and a half late in asking the question, but I asked Chris Getz whether he was better when he kept the ball on the ground. He said definitely. When the ball’s in the air, Chris’ speed doesn’t matter. When it’s on the ground, he can use his speed to turn up the heat. On Friday night, Getz hit a slow chopper behind the mound and rushed the Tigers’ third baseman into an error. Fielders know they have to hurry, and they begin to take shortcuts, such as barehanded grabs or not setting their feet.
Getz thought the play would be scored an error, and it was. But Getz said he wouldn’t have been stunned if the scorer had given him a hit. It was an error, but it was a forced error. (That’s why Billy Butler’s batting average is more impressive than a fast guy who hits for the same average. Billy gets no forced errors.)
With a runner on third and less than two outs, Chris might be trying to lift the ball, but other than that, watch Getz’s approach at the plate and see if he can keep the ball on the ground.
There’s always a reason
OK. You’re sitting at home, watching the game, and the Royals steal third with two outs. “HOW CAN THEY DO THAT? DON’T THEY KNOW YOU NEVER STEAL THIRD WITH TWO OUTS? WHAT? ARE THEY IDIOTS?”
The short answer is no.
I’ve been lucky enough to be around a lot of managers, coaches and players over the last 20 years. I can tell you with some assurance that, when asked about a situation from a previous game, they never hit themselves in the forehead and say, “There were two outs? Why didn’t someone tell me?”
It always turns out that they had more information than you did. They not only thought what you were thinking, but they thought three other things as well. Things that changed what was possible.
When I showed up at the stadium Friday afternoon, Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson was working with the team’s “burners.” Burners are the team base-stealers. Sisson was on the mound, imitating the pitcher’s movements that the burners would key on. Two base-runners at a time (one slightly behind the other; you get more work done that way) would watch Doug and break when he showed the key movement.
Afterward, Doug talked about the “keys.” The Royals study video and try to detect the very first movement a pitcher makes that indicates whether he will throw to home plate or over to first base. Some of the keys are generic. A lot of lefties go home when they look at the runner and over to first when they look home. (See? That’s why they call them crafty.) Some of the keys were specific to individually pitchers.
The main thing I got out of the conversation is that any time you see the Royals do something unorthodox — steal third with two out, run on a 3-0 count or send a slow guy (hey, Matt Treanor stole a base last night) — they have a reason. They may not want that reason to be publicized (why let the other team know what you know?), but whether it’s a key on a pitcher or his delivery time to the plate or some other factor, they have a reason for doing what they do. It may not always work out, but there will always be a reason.
So go ahead and yell at the TV when the Royals do something that goes against the book. It’s your right as a baseball fan. Just be aware that there’s a good chance you’re wrong. When you see the inside information that the team compiles, information that they don’t share with the public, it’s hard to avoid concluding these guys just know more than we do.
Why wouldn’t they? It’s their job.
Ask me to ask a Royal
A couple of readers asked me about “twittering” during a game, but my plate is overflowing already. However, you can use the website’s “Ask A Royal” feature to send me an email during the game. Those come directly to me, and I’m checking emails throughout the evening. So if you see a play and have a question about it, I might be able to talk to the players involved or try to answer it myself in the next morning’s post.