Games » Boston Red SoxAug20
How Jeff Francoeur got caught stealing
You would think that stealing a base on a guy who throws slower than most cars travel on I-70 would be easy. You would be wrong. Because Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has so little windup, he only takes 1.2 seconds to get the ball to the plate. That’s quick. It doesn’t mean you can’t steal on him, but it does mean everything has to go right for you to succeed. And when Jeff Francoeur took off for second in the fourth inning, everything did not go right.
Besides Wakefield’s quick delivery time, Frenchy had to deal with Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s catching stance. Yup, the Red Sox catcher’s foot position helped throw Francoeur out. If you were watching the game on TV, you may have noticed that Salty had his right foot positioned deeper than his left. This 45-degree angle helped Jarrod free up the elbow on his glove side.
Because nobody on earth — including Tim Wakefield — knows where a Tim Wakefield knuckleball will wind up, Saltalamacchia has to be able to react up/down/in/out. Try getting in a normal catching position and then move your glove hand inside to right-handed hitter. Now try it with your right foot deeper so you’re set up at that 45-degree angle.
You’ll see how much less movement is required to react to that inside pitch. (It also gets the left knee out of the way.) Catchers don’t take this stance all the time because big-league pitchers usually come close to hitting the mitt, and there are advantages to a squared-up stance.
But because Saltalamacchia was in this cockeyed stance to improve his chances of corralling Wakefield’s knuckler, he already was in a good position to throw out Francoeur. So take Wakefield’s quick delivery time to the plate, add Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s stance that shortened his throwing time and add shortstop Dustin Pedroia’s great handling of a short hop and tag and now you know how Jeff Francoeur got caught stealing.
How the Royals hoped to advance
So stealing a base off Wakefield is tough, but advancing on a ball in the dirt is a little easier. Before the game, Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson said that Kansas City base stealers would take good secondary leads and stay out there a little longer than usual. Because of the difficulty of handling the knuckleball, catchers can’t be too quick on a pickoff attempt or they will take a ball off the shin guard.
The Royals never got the passed ball or wild pitch they were hoping for, but at least they were ready.
How do you hit knuckleball?
That was the question I asked before the game. Mike Moustakas said he wasn’t sure. Moose said he would take a look at what Wakefield offered on the first pitch and decide the best way to go about it after that. Eric Hosmer said the same thing. Mitch Maier suggested moving up in the batter’s box. Moose said he thought he would use the old, “high, let it fly, low, let it go” theory. (The idea is that a knuckleball above the zone will drop in and be hittable and a knuckleball in the zone will drop below the zone.)
Then I suggested that I might have a better chance of hitting a knuckleball than they did, “I’ve got no bat speed, I’d be right on time,” I said.
After they all got done laughing, Jeff Francoeur said, “Lee, you’ve gotta be quick to hit a knuckleball. You wait as long as you can and swing. You can get jammed on a knuckleball.” Frenchy than told a story about getting into a 2-0 count with some knuckleballer and said, “I got huge on him.” (“Getting huge” or “getting big” is the current slang for over-swinging.) As the result of getting huge, Frenchy was late and got jammed so badly he hit a soft line drive to first. “I was so embarrassed I didn’t want to run,” he said.
Turns out they all figured out how to hit a knuckleball pretty well, although I still like my slow-bat theory.
Dustin Pedroia and defensive metrics
Red Sox third-base coach Tim Bogar gave an interview yesterday in which he said some of the offensive metrics were worthwhile, but he had no use for a lot of defensive metrics. He used Dustin Pedroia to make his point. “We have a fly-ball pitching team,” Bogar said. “Is it Pedroia’s fault that he doesn’t get as many balls?”
Bogie also found fault with zone ratings. The Red Sox use a lot of dramatic shifts. Pedroia gets downgraded when Marco Scutaro fields a ball that is usually in the second baseman’s territory. I pointed out that it clearly was Boston’s fault for not having the fielders stand in the right places. (They might be standing in the right places to win ball games, but they were in the wrong places to score well in the zone ratings.)
“Yeah, maybe we should just have everybody straight up all the time,” Bogie said.
Well, it would certainly simplify matters.
P.S. Tim said the Red Sox were working with someone who was trying to adjust the zone ratings to account for where the Red Sox actually were positioning their players and thought that might be much more useful.
Alex has a plan
Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer was talking hitting and said one of the things that was working for Alex Gordon this season was having a plan. Gordo told Seitz this was the first season where he was trying to drive the ball back up the middle in every at-bat. In the past, he just wanted to hit the ball hard.
For most players, hitting the ball hard means hitting it out in front and a dead pull hitter has a lot of holes in his swing. All the pitcher has to do is get a pitch on the outside half, let the hitter reach out for it, trying to make contact out in front and watch that rollover groundball to the pull side. And Alex spent a whole lot of last season hitting routine 4-3s.
Going back up the middle or “oppo” (baseball slang for “opposite field”) has the hitter waiting longer, keeps his front shoulder closed and give him a chance to drive that ball to the opposite field, which Alex did on his home run Thursday night.
Seitzer said that “see it and hit it” might be OK advice when you’re hot, but it’s a recipe for disaster when you’re not. You better have a plan. This season, Alex does.
It’s not the arm, it’s the feet
I asked Chris Getz whether he was working on playing third base and shortstop in order to become utility man, if that was necessary. Getz had been taking grounders at third and came in the dugout for a drink. (By the way, these guys are sometimes out here at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, working on skills.) Getzie said he was just getting ready in case there was an emergency situation and the club needed some options.
Then Getz said he actually had played on that side of the infield a fair amount in the minors and that people shouldn’t worry about his arm. Chris said he doesn’t have Alcides Escobar’s cannon and can’t make those “six feet out on the grass running the wrong way throwing back across your body” plays, but the other stuff was a matter of practice.
Throws from second don’t require the precise footwork and full arm extension needed in the hole at short. Second basemen have a lot of three-quarter arm flips, and the plays can be made on the run. Short means you have to get everything out of your arm. That means planting and extending the arm to its full length and that means practicing the timing.
Just like the discussion of slide steps and having the arm in the right position when it’s time to throw, aligning the upper and lower half is more important at shortstop than it is at second base. So Chris thinks he’s got the arm to play shortstop in a pinch. Now he needs the feet.