Games » Cleveland IndiansAug26
Once again, walks lose a game
I’m no genius (just ask my wife), but the first rule of winning baseball is 1.) THROW STRIKES! (The second rule is to make the routine play and the third rule is to cheat if you have to, but let’s concentrate on rule #1 for now.) Geez, there are only three bases and if you walk three guys in an inning that means you can’t make any other mistakes.
Unfortunately, Felipe Paulino also gave up two hits in the 7th (Hey! The hardest inning in baseball!), so the Royals were two runners over the limit. You can live with two hits, but not if you mix in three walks. As usual, I’m a little hazy on actual facts, but I’m pretty sure the Royals either lead the league, all of baseball or the Milky Way Galaxy in walks.
When you’re looking for fixes, this is a pretty simple one: throw strikes.
Tim Collins has got great stuff, but walks too many people. No matter how great your stuff is, if you can’t get that stuff in the zone, it’s not doing you much good.
Alex Gordon had his 20th outfield assist and here’s how he’s doing it: the Royals play a shallow outfield so Alex is already closer to home plate than normal. But his experience as an infielder is also playing a role. Gordo is not afraid to charge the ball hard and that cuts down the distance he has to throw. He’s also got a quick release and an accurate arm and, once again, all those years at third come in to play. Outfield assists make everyone assume the outfielder has a great arm, but positioning, charging the ball and a quick release make the arm even better.
The Royals have now thrown 22 runners out at the plate. For every great throw, remember, there has to be a great catch and tag to complete the play. Salvador Perez was on the receiving end of Gordo’s throw and got the out, but once again (just like he did against the Red Sox) Perez rolled the left shoulder down and towards the runner to protect himself. Don’t be surprised if the Royals do not get the call from an umpire that believes Salvador put his body between the runner and the mitt and never made the tag.
Jason Kendall told me throws from lefties tend to tail towards the arm side. Melky Cabrera’s throw to home did just that and that’s why Carlos Santana scored on that play at home in the 7th.
I’ve come to believe there is only one kind of true leadership: leadership by example. Everything else is someone trying to talk other people into doing something they don’t want to do themselves. So Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon being in the lineup is leadership. Both are banged up, but came to play. That sends a message to the rest of the team: you better really be hurt before asking out of a game.
I’m reading the entire Patrick O’Brian series of books this summer (the guy who wrote “Master and Commander”). Somewhere in all those books is the line, “the judgment of a ship’s crew or an English village is never wrong.” (And if it’s not in there, it should be.) The point is that people who live so closely together see each other at their best and worst, there are few secrets. When I read that line, I thought they should add a baseball team to the list: players live together for months and get to know each other better than any outsider ever could. And that brings us to Alex Gordon: I’ve asked people who the clubhouse leaders are and everyone I talked to mentioned Alex Gordon without me bringing up his name. They all say he’s quiet, but leads by example. Last night proved it.
Any time you see a batter hit into a shift (and we’ve seen several instances in the last four games) you’re seeing good baseball. Some coach studied spray charts, positioned the infield correctly and a pitcher executed the proper pitch. That routine 4-3 is anything but.
The other philosophy
Talented players make smart managers. I was lucky enough to have very talented players when I was managing and nobody was more talented than Danny Jackson. Danny had pitched in three World Series (Royals, Reds and Phillies) and had forgotten more about pitching than I’ll ever know. When Danny first got to the team and I asked him how he wanted the defense set up behind him, he said, “Put ‘em in the bare spots, they’re there for a reason.”
After I got done laughing I asked him what he meant.
Danny said he didn’t know what he wanted to throw next until he saw the hitter react to his last pitch. One pitch followed another in a logical sequence. A hitter that turned on an inside pitch and pulled it foul, was now set up for a pitch away and so on. The last thing Danny wanted was to have a hitter set up for a pitch and not be able to throw that pitch because the defense was out of position.
So he wanted the defense straight up. The middle infielders can see the signs and pass them along to the corner infielders and everybody can see the catcher move and shade that way as the pitch is delivered, but both philosophies count on the pitcher being able to hit his spots.
Either way, we’re seeing a plan in action.
Aggressive base running
I received an email from a reader who wondered whether the Royals’ aggressive base running was paying off. He thought Jeff Francoeur’s attempted steal of third in this game was misguided and wasted one of the Royals’ 27 outs. I’m a big fan of the steal and aggressive base running, so I told him I’d respond here on the site, because it’s an interesting debate. So here goes:
The Royals are on a pace to score more runs than last year, so by that measurement, the aggressive base running is paying off. The won-loss record isn’t much better, but most observers point to the pitching as the main culprit.
Aggressive base running also pays off in ways that are hard to measure. Hitters get more fastballs, pitchers have to use the slide step and are distracted, outfielders rush throws and defenses have to play out of position to make sure they can cover a base the runner tries to steal. Aggressive base running pays off in numerous ways that aren’t apparent when you look at a box score.
And, finally, you can’t really save one of those precious outs (although, Earl Weaver agreed with the reader, so you may want to take this part of the argument with a grain of salt.) Doing nothing may appear to conserve outs, but it really doesn’t .
Something is going to happen next. You can’t just sit there and freeze time. A manager has to place a bet on what’s going to happen next before he knows the outcome. So if you’re trying to get Francoeur to third (and with one out it was not a sure bet Frenchy would be sent on a base hit) do you place your money on Giavotella’s .263 batting average or Francoeur’s 70 percent success rate while stealing bases?
Twenty-six percent vs. 70 percent: is that really a hard decision? I know it looked bad because Johnny got a hit that might have scored Jeff, but the Royals have to place that bet before they know the outcome. Hitters mainly make outs. A great hitter makes outs 70 percent of the time. Sitting on your hands isn’t preserving precious runs, it only appears that way if you don’t think it through.
Refusing to take a better bet because someone will be critical of you if it doesn’t work is not good baseball. It’s covering your rear end.