Games » Minnesota TwinsJul16
The right pitch, bad execution
Friday night, Twins closer Matt Capps tried to throw a high fastball past Eric Hosmer. It was the right pitch. Hosmer had just swung through a high fastball, but the Capps’ follow-up pitch was poorly executed. It was slightly lower, and Hosmer stayed on top of the ball and hit it out of the park.
On Saturday night, Royals reliever Aaron Crow tried to get the Twins’ Michael Cuddyer to chase a slider low and away. It was the right pitch. Cuddyer had just swung and missed a low-and-away slider, but the pitch was poorly executed. It hung in the middle of the zone. Cuddyer lined it into center field, and the winning run scored.
David Cone once said that he could throw seven fastballs in a row and get away with it — if they were properly executed. That was why he liked having Joe Girardi as his catcher. Cone said he and Girardi mutually decided to quit freaking out so much about pitch selection and concentrate on pitch execution. Commit 100 percent to whatever pitch you’re throwing and execute it properly.
So when you see a game lost on a hittable fastball or a hung slider, instead of wondering whether those were the right pitches, maybe it is more productive to think about how well those pitches were thrown.
Small things add up
Royals broadcasters Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White were all over these two plays, but I’ll mention them anyway. In the fifth inning, Jeff Francoeur popped up on the first pitch. Mike Moustakas popped up on the second pitch. Brayan Pena then walked to the plate and did the unselfish thing: take pitches until he had two strikes. Brayan didn’t want Twins starter Carl Pavano to have a three-pitch inning, which would have forced Royals starter Jeff Francis back to the mound with almost no rest between innings.
Sometimes a guy will have a bad at-bat because of the at-bats preceding his. He might be forced to take some pitches to extend the inning. To make it worse, the pitcher probably knows the batter is taking pitches and throws the ball right down the middle. Pavano threw a four-seamer (a straight fastball) for a strike to start off the at-bat and then went to a slider. (He might not have thought Brayan’s unselfishness extended to taking two strikes, but it did.) Pavano then went to his “out” pitch, the nastiest pitch in the arsenal, which usually is thrown with two strikes and often not in the zone. Pavano threw a splitter, Brayan drove it into left field, and that’s why Alcides Escobar had the chance to hit a two-run home run in the next at-bat.
The other unselfish play was Alex Gordon taking out the pivot man on a Billy Butler grounder. That prevented a double play and allowed Melky Cabrera to score on an Eric Hosmer groundout one batter later. Both plays were unselfish plays, and unselfish plays are usually plays that help you win games.
Two rules of thumb
Chris Getz might have been too deep on Ben Revere’s infield single that led off the bottom of the first inning. Chris had a slight bobble, and by the time he got the ball out of his glove, Revere was safe at first base. Which leads us to two rules of thumb on defense. Make the fast guys hit it past you in the infield (don’t let them get away with bunts and infield singles), and make the small guys hit it over your head in the outfield (the vast majority of balls in the outfield land in front of fielders). You can’t stand everywhere, but you can play the odds.
Not all good plays result in outs
Jeff Francoeur made a pretty good play on a ball he didn’t catch. It was a sinking line drive that was going to land at his feet. When that happens, you feel as though whatever you do (dive or pull up), you’re in trouble. Frenchy dove, but he sacrificed his body by getting it in front of the ball. He didn’t make the catch, but he did save a base when the ball bounced off of him.
The unedited version of the first-half summary
(This is what I turned in for the print edition. Because of space limitations, the article had to be trimmed. Here on the website, you can see the whole thing … whether you want to or not.)
For the last two seasons, we’ve been keeping track of the Kansas City Royals using Ron Polk’s MVP Chart. It’s a system that awards points for contributions to a team and subtracts points for actions that hinders a team’s success. You can disagree with the points awarded, and some have, but the patterns of play revealed help a fan understand what each player is bringing to the 2011 campaign. Here’s what we’ve found so far this season:
Melky Cabrera: 481 points
STRENGTHS: There are five things to do on a baseball field: run, throw, catch, hit and hit with power. Melky has done all five and Polk’s system rewards versatility. Cabrera is the one guy in the lineup I don’t remember having some kind of slump. He steals bases, takes extra bases, leads the outfield in outstanding plays, has 9 outfield assists, leads the team in runs scored, second in RBIs, and, along with Alex Gordon, is as good an all-around player as the Royals have this year.
LIMITATIONS: Doesn’t walk much, but doesn’t strike out looking much either, he swings the bat.
Alcides Escobar: 427 points
STRENGTHS: Defense. Has 60 outstanding defensive plays. That’s 60 times he robbed someone of a hit or saved a base by keeping the ball on the infield. Errors have been recorded forever, but paying attention to the opposite, outstanding glove work, is revealing. If Esky makes a great play to end an inning with the bases loaded, that’s the same as driving in two runs. Even though fans don’t pay much attention to this, keeping runs off the board counts as much as putting runs on the board. He’s taken part in 65 double plays and stolen 14 bases. Doesn’t strike out much and his offense is coming around.
LIMITATIONS: When he makes an error, it’s often on a routine play. Almost as if he takes making that play for granted and doesn’t put in the same effort as he does on the spectacular ones. Doesn’t walk much.
Jeff Francoeur: 427 points
STRENGTHS: We don’t have a category that reflects leadership or humor, so I’ll go with RBIs. Frenchy leads the team. He’s on pace to drive in 100 runs. Cannon for an arm. Lost weight and is now stealing bases. Here’s a surprise: leads the team lead in 8+ pitch at-bats, which means he’s not hacking all the time, but he still doesn’t walk a lot. Second on the team in hard-hit outs.
LIMITATIONS: The same thing that makes him great, all-out effort, all the time. His mistakes are mistakes of enthusiasm, like overthrowing the cutoff man because he believes he can nail the runner at third. Or striking out because he believes he can hit one out. Fortunately, Frenchy often can throw out the runner or hit one out, so the all-out effort is often rewarded. Gets pull-happy and needs to get a pitch out over the plate (I only know that because he told me so).
Alex Gordon: 404 points
STRENGTHS: Like Melky, Alex does a little bit of everything. He hits, hits for power (tops on the team in slugging percentage), plays outstanding defense, leads the team in outfield assists and can take the extra base or steal it (although not at the same rate as Cabrera and Getz). Alex completes the best outfield Kansas City has seen in years. They play D, throw people out and drive in runs (all three are on pace for approximately 90 RBIs or better). Why do the Royals have to dismantle this outfield at the trading deadline? The only reason to get rid of Cabrera or Francoeur is money. They’re both still young (26 and 27 last time I checked), they’ve thrived in KC and the only reason to get rid of a player who is good for one that might be good is because it would be cheaper. Spend the cash and trade the prospects if you need to trade someone. (I’m done playing GM for now and will get back to our regularly scheduled program.)
LIMITATIONS: Gordon leads the team in strikeouts and strikeouts looking.
Chris Getz: 368 points
STRENGTHS: Chris should be the poster boy for Ron Polk’s system: it was designed to reveal the worth of players like him. Tell a sabermetrics guy that Getz is a better all-around ballplayer than Billy Butler and he’ll have an asthma attack and ask his mom to bring him a fresh box of Pop Tarts. Say the same thing to just about any Royals player and he’ll agree, with the obvious exception of Billy. Getz does well in this system because he does so many things: takes extra bases, steals bases, bunts, moves runners, plays solid defense and doesn’t make mental mistakes unless he’s having an overheated discussion with an umpire. Getz does not have to do anything great, as long as he does a lot of things well.
LIMITATIONS: No power. When he really gets into one, Getz usually drives it all the way to an outfielder. He’s much better when he keeps the ball on the ground. If Getz could get jammed on every pitch, he’d hit .400.
Billy Butler: 307 points
LIMITATIONS: Everything else. Billy is great at one thing: hitting a baseball. If he embraces that role, he could be one of the premier DHs along the lines of Edgar Martinez. He gets criticized for lack of home runs by people who forget what ballpark he plays in. Put him in another setting and some of those hard-hit outs (he leads the team) become dingers. He leads the team in walks, hard-hit outs and quality plate appearances. Billy has made it clear that he disagrees with me, Ned Yost, all his teammates and the rest of known world about his ability to play defense. Here’s something to think about: last season when Billy was playing first quite a bit, he had fewer than 20 points defensively. This season Eric Hosmer already has 63.
Eric Hosmer: 305 points
STRENGTHS: As one of his teammates said to me “Screw his bat, I want his glove.” Hosmer is a wizard at first base. He has 37 outstanding plays and most of those are errors he prevented. That’s why his teammates want him at first. He hit, he slumped, he’s hitting again by going the other way more often, which shows his ability to adjust at the plate.
LIMITATIONS: Too many errors, but most of those are throwing errors in which he tried to do too much. I’m assuming he’ll figure out which plays are makeable and which plays are not and we’ll see the errors go down.
Matt Treanor: 252 points
STRENGTHS: I’ve been told I overvalue catchers. Hmmm…you can actually play a game without a right fielder, try playing one without a catcher. Catchers handle the ball more than anyone…like 10 times more than anyone. Matt has 56 outstanding plays and about two thirds of those are blocked pitches in the dirt with a runner on third. That’s a lot of runs Matt has kept off the board. If you’ve never kept that stat and then start keeping it, you’re going to value catchers more. Offensively, Matt walks a lot, he’s second among the starters in quality plate appearances and tied for third in hard-hit outs. Plus, he’s married to Misty May Treanor … what more do you want?
LIMITATIONS: Batting average and he’s thrown out 29% of base stealers. Not bad, but it could be better. Although, if Treanor had thrown out just two more base stealers he’s be at 33%, a much better looking number. And I know he gave up at least two steals while Danny Duffy took 1.7 seconds to get the ball to the plate.
Brayan Pena: 225 points
STRENGTHS: Lost weight and his pitch blocking and throwing appear improved. Same deal as with Treanor: 40 outstanding plays represent about 30 runs that didn’t cross home plate. Has some pop in his bat.
LIMITATIONS: Some concern about his game calling.
The rest of the position players:
It’s too soon for anybody to make any judgments about Mike Moustakas and that includes me. He’s hit everywhere he’s been, but he’s been in an awful lot of places in a short amount of time. Everyone needs to back off while he adjusts to the best baseball league in the world. Wilson Betemit rakes and a guy who hits that well and spends most of the time on the bench seems like an obvious trade. We’ve got two born-to-DH types, him and Billy, and letting one go to bring a true utility infielder in would seem to make sense. Mitch Maier is the Chris Getz of the outfield: solid in every department and would be starting on a lot of other teams.
LIMITATIONS: The starting pitching. Too inconsistent for the Royals to be competitive.
Jeff Francis leads all pitches with 197 points. He leads the team in quality starts (6 innings or more, three earned runs or less). Some people don’t like that stat, but the Royals are over .500 when they get one and way under .500 when they don’t. It seems like a decent measurement of a pitcher that gave his team a chance to win.
We’ve also been keeping track of appearances in which a pitcher gives up more than 4 earned runs, the opposite of a quality start. I may be wrong, but I don’t remember the Royals winning a single game in which a pitcher gave up more than 4 earned runs.
Francis has given up more than four earned runs five times, Luke Hochevar eight and Kyle Davies four. Overall the Royals pitchers have provided 36 quality starts and 37 appearances in which someone gave up more than 4 earned runs (and the Royals offense is not built to score runs in bunches). You can see the problem: too many games in which the starting pitcher does not give his team the chance to win.
The bullpen has been much better. Tim Collins walks too many people, but then has the stuff to power out of the situation he helped create. Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Louis Coleman and Blake Wood have generally been outstanding and Joakim Soria appears to be back to being Joakim Soria.
As I said before, I generally don’t like to play GM (I’m not qualified … although that never seems to stop anybody else), but here I go again: if the Royals choose to go that route, making Crow a starter next season makes some sense. Holland looks like he could fill the eigth-inning role and if Hochevar and/or Davies don’t figure it out, adding Crow and Danny Duffy (who’s been steadily improving with every start) to a rotation that includes Bruce Chen and Felipe Paulino might cut down on those 4+ earned run starts. (OK, I’m done being GM and back to the other job I’m unqualified for.)
If you look at the record it’s tempting to say “same old Royals.” I’ve been watching them for a long time and have paid attention to every pitch of every game for the last year and a half. I truly believe this is a better team than we’ve seen in a while. They no longer make the silly mistakes that made them hard to watch just a few years ago. Ned Yost will tell you that they’re close to being competitive. That most of the time, when the Royals lose, they lose with the tying or winning run on base or at the plate. They’re that close to being a winner: a run here or there, not five runs here or there.
If the Royals are that close to being good, why would they dismantle what they’ve created at the trading deadline? Why sell off major chunks of the team to be good someday? Why not keep the players that have this team close to success and add what’s needed and be good now, or at least next season?
When everyone around the team tells me they’re very close to being a winner, I believe them. Does David Glass? Spend some money and keep these guys together.