Games » Detroit TigersAug30
Why teams still bunt
According to the numbers I’m looking at (supplied by a stat-friendly reader), between 1993 and 2010 the average number of runs scored in an inning with a runner on second and nobody out was 1.170. In the same period, the average number of runs scored in an inning with a runner on third and one out was 0.989.
So why bunt?
If the average number of runs scored was actually going to go down, why did the Royals use Melky Cabrera to bunt Alex Gordon over to third base after Gordo led off the seventh inning with a double? There are a couple reasons, but let’s concentrate on one. The above numbers are averages compiled by all teams and all players over seven years. On some nights, the pitcher might have sucked and been facing an awesome lineup. On other nights, an ace might have been dominating a weak team.
The point being that those numbers don’t apply every night to every team in every situation. On this night, the Royals were getting dominated by Detroit starter Doug Fister. Gordon’s double was the Royals’ first hit of the night. The score was 0-0 after six innings, and one run looked important. Melky got Alex to third, Billy Butler then hit a sacrifice fly, and the Royals got their run without the benefit of a hit.
(Eric Hosmer followed with a single to center field, but if you knew that was going to happen, I’m sure Royals manager Ned Yost would have appreciated a heads-up. He had to make the decision to bunt when his team had managed all of one hit in six innings.)
It’s easy to look up a number on a website, but that number does not apply to all situations. And nobody has a better idea of what the odds are on any night or in any situation than the people who are actually playing the game.
Tuesday night, in the seventh inning, the Royals — the people with the most information about the specific situation they were in — thought they should bunt.
The cost of not bunting
When MikeMoustakas led off the eighth inning with a single, I was surprised that the next batter, Johnny Giavotella, didn’t bunt. The Royals had already shown that they thought one run was going to be significant. Gio struck out, taking the average number of runs scored from 0.941 (nobody out, runner on first) down to 0.562 (one out, runner on first). A successful bunt would only have lowered the average to 0.721 (one out, runner on second).
(Wow, playing with numbers is fun, isn’t it?)
Then Moose would have scored on Salvador Perez’s double instead of only making it to third. Of course, with first base open, the Tigers might not have pitched to Perez, but if they had worked around Sal, they would have had to face Gordon again, so I think they still go after him.
But the really important thing to remember is this: I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!
As I’ve already pointed out, I’m making my case with a bunch of numbers that don’t strictly apply to the people or situations in this game. Specific individuals playing in specific situations in specific conditions change everything.
But I still think Gio should have bunted.
• Detroit starter Doug Fister is 6 feet 8 inches tall which is a tremendous help in pitching downhill. That means the hitter sees the top of the ball, which results in grounders, rather than the side, results in line drives. Fister had 12 ground-ball outs and gave up only two line drives.
• Mike Moustakas had an error and tried his hardest to make another one (Hosmer saved him), because Moose rushed when he didn’t have to. Mike threw on the run, but the two Tigers hitters who were running down the line (Victor Martinez and Delmon Young) weren’t that fast. Infielders need to know who is running and how quickly they have to make a play.
• I wasn’t surprised that Chris Getz didn’t take off right away when he got on with two outs in the 10th inning. Detroit reliever Joaquin Benoit can get the ball to home plate in 1.2 seconds, and Getz has told me he can beat a 1.3. I figured that unless he got a great jump, Chris might not go.
A note from Paul (nice to know he’s not wasting his time at college)
In the bottom of the ninth, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera led off the inning against Royals reliever Louis Coleman. Coleman threw Miguel (I can’t call him Cabrera because everyone will get confused) three straight fastballs, two of them for strikes, and then threw a slider for a ball, getting Miguel into a 2-2 count.
As soon as I saw this — in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the ninth — I said to myself, “Coleman better get him out here because guys that get paid like that win on 3-2 counts most of the time.” Coleman threw another slider and fell to 3-2 after a check-swing review on Miguel. Coleman came right back down the middle with a fastball and struck out Miguel looking.
Ryan Lefebvre, the Royals’ TV play-by-play man, speculated that Miguel was looking for a different pitch, but I thought it might be one of two things. Either A.) Coleman’s low arm angle and the movement on his two-seamer was just enough to freeze Miguel, who was looking to get on rather than to end the game, as the leadoff man on a team in a playoff race, or B.) Miguel was keyed in on a different pitch, figuring that Coleman would go off the plate and rather give up a walk than a walk-off.
Coleman had the guts to go right after one of the best hitters in the majors in a 3-2 game where one swing could easily have ended the game. I definitely know which one would have been more impressive.
Hitting terminology: We got it if you want it
A reader asked about some of the terms used in teaching hitting these days, and I replied that I would take a whack at explaining it. (When the Royals get back to Kansas City, I’ll ask hitting coach Kevin Seitzer to take a whack at explaining what I got wrong.) So here we go: When the hitter is standing in the batter’s box, waiting on the pitcher, you usually will see some kind of pre-swing movement. This is just to keep his body loose and ready to go (like revving a car). Then the hitter will take a stride and his hands will go back (most of the time). He is now in the launch position. It doesn’t matter what stance the hitter starts in, almost all good hitters go to the same position when preparing to swing. And they prepare to swing on every pitch.
(Unless the hitter is taking all the way and don’t care who knows it. That is what’s known as a porn take — because you’re just watching.)
So the hitter’s front foot is down and his hands are back. This is where the arguments begin. Some hitting instructors say the hips begin the swing (Ted Williams) and some say the hands (Frank Robinson). Seitzer is a hands guy. (So am I, but I can’t hit, so who cares?)
Kevin wants the hitter’s hands to stay loose and operate independently of his body, which reduces the movement of the front shoulder (referred to as staying on the ball or staying closed). In this swing, the batter’s hands are the locomotive and his body is the train. The hands pull the body through the swing. If the hitter’s front shoulder starts the swing (referred to as pulling off the ball), his hands are the train and the front shoulder is the locomotive.
When the batter’s front shoulder flies open first, his hands are dragging and the hitter will be late. And when that shoulder goes, the head follows. The hitter misses hittable pitches because his head came off the ball. He will pop up the other way because his hands are dragging behind the shoulder and that causes the bat head to be late and loop. When the batter does pull the ball, he is likely to come around it.
That means the head and shoulder are gone, the bat head dropped and was late, but then went outside the path of the ball and came back to make contact with the outside half of the ball. The hitter then hits a rollover grounder (called that because your timing is so messed up your reaching the point where your wrists are rolling over as you hit the ball). So: pop-ups the opposite way and easy grounders to the pull side.
I know all this because I spent years doing it. This is what Mike Moustakas has been struggling with, which is why Moose and I get along. He knows I know what he is going through. So when Seitzer says a hitter needs to stay loose, he means the batter’s hands need to work somewhat independently of his body and not tighten up in an effort to hit the ball hard (which doesn’t work). When Seitzer says he wants the batter to stay closed, he means keeping the front shoulder closed as long as possible. When Seitzer says he wants the batter to stay short and not get big, that means a short backswing and, as a consequence, a short distance to get back to contact. When Seitzer says he wants the batter to stay through the ball, that means not prematurely rotating away from the path of the ball. When Seitzersays the batter needs to stay inside the ball, that means the action of the swing takes place between the batter’s body and the path of the ball, not going outside the ball’s path and returning to make contact with the outside half. (Billy Butler is great at this.)
And when Kevin says this will give the batter leverage, I have no idea what he’s talking about. But that will give us something to put on a video, won’t it?