Games » Detroit TigersJul10
Why Hosmer was right to steal
Fans have the luxury of waiting until a play is over before deciding whether it should have been attempted. Unfortunately, managers and players have to decide whether to attempt a play before they know the outcome. I’ve said this before, and I’m guessing I’ll say it again, especially if people say Eric Hosmer should not have attempted to steal third in the ninth inning of this game.
Here’s the deal. Bottom of the ninth, score 2-1 and Hosmer doubles the other way. The Royals put on a “don’t steal” sign because nobody’s out and Jeff Francoeur is at the plate. Frenchy leads the team in RBIs, so they want to give him the chance to drive in Hosmer. Frenchy strikes out. One down. Mike Moustakas at the plate. The Royals give Hosmer a “steal if you get a jump” sign. (They also have a “must steal” sign.)
Manager Ned Yost and the Royals did have several other options. Moustakas had one hit in his last 24 at-bats. He clearly has been scuffling, so they could have sent a pinch hitter up there if they wanted to. But remember Alcides Escobar. Everyone screamed at Ned for not pinch-hitting for Esky, but Ned said that Esky is never going to learn to hit in those situations without hitting in those situations. Yost stuck by his guns, and Alcides started hitting.
Same thing with Mike Moustakas. Ned thinks Mike needs to face the top pitchers to learn how to have success against the top pitchers, so he stuck with Moustakas. Moose is the third baseman of the future. He needs to experience this stuff.
So if it’s a given that Moose is going to go to the plate, you could also have Hosmer stay put and put all the pressure on Mike and whoever hits next. (Brayan Pena was scheduled, but he’s not on the same developmental path as Moustakas, so maybe they pinch hit there … I don’t know the answer to that one.) If Hosmer stays put, you’re betting on a guy who is hitting about .230 and having a rough time to come through against Tigers closer Jose Valverde, who has a 2.70 ERA and 24 saves. Not a great bet.
If Hosmer got to third, Mostakas might have been able to score him by just getting the ball in play, which was a much better bet. Mike had a broken-bat hit against Tigers starter Justin Verlander and got the ball in play every time he went to the plate, so those odds look quite a bit better.
One more thing tipping the scale in favor of the steal: Jose Valverde takes 1.75 to 1.8 seconds to get the ball to the plate. The Royals base-stealers can go on a 1.3. Hosmer isn’t a burner, but 1.7 is Billy Butler territory, so Hosmer went.
And was probably safe.
Hosmer beat the throw, but he was called out. When I saw the replay, I expected to see Eric blocked off the base by Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge. Inge tried. He “dropped a knee,” the technique for keeping the runner from touching the base by kneeling in front of it. But Inge’s knee came down on top of the base, not in front of it. Eric said he got his hand to the base before being tagged and was “100 percent” sure.
Unfortunately for Hosmer, the Royals and all their fans, third-base umpire Tom Hallion just stayed where he was and never improved his position before calling Hosmer out. From his angle, Hallion probably saw Inge’s knee go down, missed that it was on top of the base and made the call assuming that Hosmer never touched third.
When a play fails, it’s easy to say it shouldn’t have been attempted. But when you examine the options available — let Moustakas try to drive in Hosmer from second with a hit, or steal the base and let Moustakas try to drive in Hosmer by putting the ball in play — I think Hosmer needed to steal.
And good for him for having the guts to try it.
Royals starter Jeff Francis pitched great, but the winning run was scored by a walk (the only one Jeff gave up). Casper Wells was hitting .257 coming into the game, and throwing strikes is always a good idea. Wells stole second, Brayan Pena’s throw tailed toward right field, and Chris Getz had to dive just to keep the ball on the infield. Wells then scored on Magglio Ordonez’s single.
As predicted, lots of Royals went to the plate ready to hack. Nobody wanted to fall behind Justin Verlander and have to deal with all the tricks in his bag. Guys were letting it go on the first hittable pitch. The game was two hours, 49 minutes long, about an hour shorter than Saturday’s game.
While I’m targeting umpires, home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi missed a call badly when Alcides Escobar got hit by a pitch. When that happens, it usually is because the batter’s hand or wrist gets hit, and the umpire thinks the ball hit the bat. This pitch clearly hit Alcides in the elbow. Maybe the umpires are ready for the All-Star break, too.
More on Moose
Before the game, Mike Moustakas talked about scuffling in the big leagues and said he saw a lot more breaking pitches in the minors. He was hitting well enough down there that nobody wanted to give him a fastball if they didn’t have to. Here they are force-feeding him heat, and he’s still adjusting.
Moose said he thought he’s been late on hittable fastballs because he’s thinking too much about recognizing pitches out the hand, and by the time he identifies the pitch, it’s too late. Thinking instead of reacting, and once he gets back to reacting, he’ll be OK.
George Brett once said the same thing to me: George was talking about hitting, and I asked him if all he was doing at the plate was thinking about seeing the ball. “I’m not thinking about seeing the ball. I’m seeing the ball,” George replied. That might seem a little Yoda-like, but if you’ve ever hit at a serious level, you know exactly what he means. Your mind is clear, and you’re letting things happen, not making things happen.
I was playing amateur ball at the time and decided to trust Brett’s advice. I had been trying to think my way through at-bats. I was aware of when my hands went back and aware of making the decision to swing. I was also aware that I sucked.
I got in the box for an at-bat, decided to not decide and just observe. My last conscious thought was, “I wonder if I’ll move if I’m going to get hit in the head?” (Really not the thing you want in your mind at that point.) The pitch came in, and I saw the seams more clearly than I ever had before. I hit a line drive over second base and distinctly saw the rotation on the ball change after it was struck by the bat. I ran down to first base thinking, “I never decided to swing.”
I would like to say that I went on to become an awesome hitter. I had days, but mainly I sucked. But at least I got to experience that state of mind that Moustakas is looking for. Moose thinks he just needs to get back to reacting and trusting his hands and quit thinking his way through an at-bat.
We were talking while Moose laid on the clubhouse floor, relaxing before Sunday’s game. Mitch Maier, who was listening in on the conversation, said to Mike, “Do you know how much better you’re going to be? Look at A-Rod. He’s been hitting the same level of pitching for 20 years, you’ve been seeing a new level of pitching every year.”
Mitch might be hazy on Alex Rodriguez’s service time, but he knows exactly what he’s talking about.
I asked Ned Yost what injured catcher Jason Kendall’s absence would mean to the clubhouse. Jason is often the center of postgame activity. You walk in, and six guys are having a beer in his corner. Or he might be counseling another player in a private conversation.
Ned said that not only do the players miss Kendall, he misses him. Jason played the same role in Milwaukee, the center of postgame discussions and counselor to veterans and rookies. Yost doesn’t know what Jason will decide to do, but he didn’t rule out a return to playing in 2013.
I’m not overburdened by Jim Leyland anecdotes, but here are two. When he managed in Colorado, Leyland lived in the stadium. Literally. They fixed up a room, and that was his home. Weird, but true.
The other story has to do with Leyland’s ability to get the match-ups he wanted. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told me Leyland was the best at it he had ever seen, and I soon got a sample. Sunday game. Larry Walker’s not in the Rockies’ lineup. Early in the game — much earlier than I would have thought — Walker comes out on deck and swings the bat as if he’s going to pinch-hit. Leyland appears to change his mind. Walker goes back in the dugout.
Same thing a few inning later. Larry comes out to swing, then goes back in the dugout. Finally, late in the game when it makes sense to pinch-hit Walker, Leyland did. After the game, I asked Clint what all that had been about.
“Dry-humping their lefty.”
A “dry hump” is when a pitcher warms up but never gets in the game. (Man, they do come up with the phrases in baseball, don’t they?) Every time Larry Walker came out on deck, the other team’s left hander had to warm up. Warming up three times might not have hurt the guy, but it didn’t help.
Getaway day is the last game before a road trip. Players show up with their bags packed, ready to travel. Getaway day before the All-Star break is serious business. People have planes to catch, and everybody wants the pitchers to work quickly and throw strikes (which actually seems like a good idea every day).
Lots of players head home or for a brief vacation, but a surprising number of them just stay in town. They’re tired of travel, tired of living out of a suitcase and just needing a rest. Everybody is banged up at this point of the season (including at least one writer), and three days of doing nothing sounds great.
But I won’t be doing nothing
It sounds great, but for the next couple of days I will be writing a summary of the first half of the season. We’ll do a short analysis of each player’s strengths and limitations. It will appear in the print edition of The Star, but we also will post it online attached to the game notes. The first game after the break is on Thursday, so you will see new material on Friday, July 15.
Have a nice break.