Games » Minnesota TwinsJul17
The safest place to throw a pitch is down and away. Even if the hitter stays on it and makes solid contact, it rarely will be hit for more than a single. (The low and away pitch is difficult to lift and unless it goes right down the line, it probably won’t be hit for extra bases.) No wonder pitchers like to go to that quadrant of the zone.
But hitters know pitchers like to go to that quadrant of the zone.
That’s why they dive to the outside corner. In the past, if a pitcher nailed the low-and-away corner and a hitter stayed on it and drove the ball the other way, it meant that hitter needed to be drilled. That’s how pitchers kept hitters honest. Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson used to say that the outside half of the plate was his. If he made a mistake on the inside half, the hitter was welcome to it, but if the hitter was diving to cover the outer half, Gibson was going make that hitter pay.
The Royals want both pitchers to go inside more often. They’re not being asked to hit batters. They’re being asked to keep batters honest. Go up and in so you can then go down and away. Both Paulino and Hochevar did that over the weekend, and both of them had good outings. (Paulino may have gotten squeezed on the 2-2 call that allowed Jim Thome to stay at the plate. Thome then hit a ball a mile and a half, but it still was a decent outing for Paulino.)
Keep watching for the Royals pitchers to go up and in. Then see what happens on the next pitch.
Elbow pads and the balance of power
OK, so pitching up and in allows you to pitch low and away. What’s that have to do with elbow pads? Some pitchers feel the pads change the balance of power. The hitter no longer fears the pitcher coming inside. He just takes it off the elbow pad and trots down to first. Body armor makes it more difficult to pitch low and away.
Leave it to Bob Gibson to find a solution. When he was asked about all the protective gear hitters wear to the plate these days, Gibson said it wouldn’t bother him if he were pitching. “I think I could break it.”
Now that’s a pitcher.
Challenging Delmon Young
With one out in the first inning, Melky Cabrera came into third on a base hit by Alex Gordon. I could tell third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez was going to send him, and he did. (Hey, I watched the videos Eddie made for this website on coaching third.) The Twins’ Delmon Young was moving sideways, and that meant he would make a weaker throw. Plus, he’s a left fielder.
Everything else being equal, you want your strongest arm in right field. He’s got the long throw to third. Center field doesn’t require quite as long a throw, and left field has the shortest throw of all. That’s part of what makes the Royals’ current outfield so special. There are good arms in all three positions.
I once asked a former catcher if catchers got calls from umpires. He grinned and said, “Oh, yeah.”
Catchers have a different relationship with umpires than any other player on the field. Catchers and umpires have to work together, and that relationship can spill over to a catcher’s at-bat. (I thought Twins catcher Joe Mauer got a generous call at one point in this game.)
When a catcher and umpire get into a dispute, it’s almost like watching a married couple fight. It’s a bit shocking. “Gee, I thought you two were the perfect couple.”
Veterans also get calls, and I thought Thome got one that changed the game. (I’ve got an exciting idea: How about if the strike zone is the same for everyone, and we quit measuring service time before making a call?)
To be fair, I thought second-base umpire Sam Holbrook blew a call when he decided Alcides Escobar was out trying to steal second, but replays showed Holbrook probably got the call right.
The thing I liked best about the call was what Holbrook did after making it. He just walked into the outfield. That’s the way an umpire used to handle disputed calls. He walked away and made the player or manager chase him. That’s much better than looking for a confrontation. Good for Holbrook.
I’ve got no inside information, so take this with a grain of salt. But Wilson Betemit played third today, and it might be because the Royals want to showcase him for other teams. (It also might be because it was a day game after a night game, because a lefty was starting and because Mike Moustakas needed a break.) Just don’t be surprised if Betemit gets traded.
While on the All-Star break, Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer gave me the team’s inside-hitting stats, and here are a few of the highlights. Billy Butler leads the team in “quality plate appearances” (hit, walk, eight or more pitch at-bat or hard-hit out). Here’s the surprise: Matt Treanor is second among all Royals regulars in this category.
Chris Getz is tops in “situational batting average,” which includes hit and runs, bunts, moving the runner over from second and driving the runner in from third. Wilson Betemit ranks second on the team in this category.
A conversation with Alex
I probably misread Alex Gordon as badly as I’ve ever misread anybody. Alex is quiet, and that can make him seem aloof. Get to know him, and he’s anything but aloof. (I think we unfairly project personalities onto celebrities all the time: “He seems like a jerk” or, “He seems like a nice guy” when we actually have no evidence for either conclusion.) I recently had a long conversation with Alex, and here’s what I learned:
Previous to this season, Alex had no approach at the plate. He was just hacking, and pitchers took advantage of that. Hacking had always worked before, but when he hit at this level, Alex had to make a change. Now he’s more selective and doesn’t think about hitting a home runs. (At least he tries not to think about hitting home runs.) If they happen, they happen, but Alex doesn’t want to think about it … and he thought about it a lot in the past.
Melky Cabrera really doesn’t speak English. I said I thought Melky was just pretending to not understand. (Apparently I’ve been auditioning for a part in “The Ugly American” without knowing it. … I really need to learn some Spanish beyond, “Dos cerveza, por favor” and “Donde esta el banos?”) But Alex said Melky really doesn’t understand English. Apparently Alex went over to talk to Melky during a recent pitching change, and what ensued was, according to Alex, “Five minutes of chaos.”
Right before our conversation, Gordon seemed to struggle with a ball in the lights, and here’s what he told me. If he loses a ball in the lights, it usually will be a line drive. The ball gets to the level of the lights and stays there. If Alex loses a ball in the sun, it will be a pop-up or fly ball, not a line drive. During day games, Alex checks the sun’s position every inning and figures out where to hold his glove to shade his eyes … and David DeJesus taught him how to play a sun ball, not by just using his glove to shade his eyes, but by turning his body so he gets a side view of the ball with no sun in the background.
Alex said he likes playing with Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur and hopes they can remain together and spend a few more years driving in runs and throwing out runners while we all watch.
Alex is a creature of habit. He eats the same breakfast every day and tries to keep to a daily routine to reinforce consistency. He also chews three pieces of gum during every ballgame. I found this out when Greg Holland sat down next to us, popped one of Alex’s three pieces of gum in his mouth and was sent back to the clubhouse to replace it. (You have to ride herd on these rookies.)
Gordon isn’t crazy about the “no doubles” defense. (Corner infielders crowd the foul line, and outfielders back up in an effort to make every hit a single.) Alex said that if you get into “no doubles” too early (it usually happens around the seventh inning), you can get beat by a series of singles that might have been outs if you had played your normal position. (You can see Royals coach Doug Sisson signal for “no doubles” from the top of the dugout steps by putting a hand behind his head.)
Like Jeff Francoeur (and I assume Melky … I’m still working on my Berlitz’ Spanish), Gordon moves with the count. He plays the hitter to pull the ball when the hitter is ahead in the count, and he goes the other way when the hitter is behind in the count.
And, finally, Alex said he wants to go out to the left-field corner and watch me climb the wall. It’s not an easy skill, and I think he would find it amusing to watch me try. Well, he’s right — and as soon as I heal up from all the other dumb stuff I’ve done, we’ll make a video.