Games » Oakland AthleticsSep5
Five hundred walks
A lot of cool things happened in this game, so let’s start with the good stuff. The Royals won. The offense battled back all day. The defense turned a spectacular double play. The A’s didn’t want to pitch to Eric Hosmer, so they went after Billy Butler, who crushed a home run. The Royals got 15 hits. The bullpen provided four and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief (one inherited run did score).
And did I mention that the Royals won?
And the Royals’ pitchers also issued their 500th walk of the season. (Let that number marinate in your prefrontal cortex for a second.)
Five hundred walks. That leads the league. Chicago, best in the league at throwing strikes, isn’t even approaching 400 walks (unless they issued 39 walks in the last two days). Five hundred walks in 142 games means that, on average, the Royals are handing out 3.5 base runners per game. How many games have the Royals lost by one run this season? Like 172? (My math might be off, but there’s a point coming.)
Of the pitchers who still are on staff, they now have issued 82 walks that scored. How many of those one-run losses could have been avoided simply by throwing strikes? (The number of all the walks issued by Royals pitchers that scored is even worse, but I woud have to call an IT guy on Labor Day to find that one out … and 82 is bad enough to make my point.)
And it’s not just walks and walks that have scored that hurt the team. Walks raise the pitch count. Walks make manager Ned Yost get into the bullpen earlier, which hurts the team’s chance to win the next day. Walks make the defense play worse because the defense is standing around all day. And I’m pretty sure walks have some connection to world hunger (this one hasn’t been proved by science … yet).
In any case, walks are bad. And if the Royals are going to be competitive in 2012, they can’t walk 500 batters.
• Everett Teaford had another solid outing. He doesn’t have Tim Collins’ innings-pitched-to-strikeout ratio, but he doesn’t walk the world, either. I’m not the manager, but if Collins remains inconsistent and Teaford continues to throw well, don’t be surprised if Everett becomes the situational lefty of choice out of the pen. (And there may be other factors I’m unaware of. There usually are.)
• In surveys of players, the Oakland Coliseum (hey, they can call it whatever they want, I don’t have to go along) often is named the worst ballpark in the major leagues, but maybe I should ask more pitchers. All that foul ground means pop-ups that usually would be in the stands in other ballparks can be caught for outs in Oakland.
The reverse is true in Kansas City. The additional seats behind home plate and the dugout suites in Kauffman Stadium mean a pitcher’s ERA goes up … but they do have a huge outfield to work with.
• I spent a lot of time talking to Royals pitching coach Bob McClure last weekend, and he told me that when Joakim Soria is right, Soria’s fastball has a funny little skip to it, right at the end. McClure said it’s as if the ball is going along and hits a patch of ice. Mac says he can’t teach that and Joakim just naturally has that movement when everything’s going well.
Mac also said that’s why Soria can appear to throw a fastball down the middle of the plate and hitters swing through it. If that’s true, Monday’s game was a good sign because Soria was throwing 92 and 93 mph fastballs past the last three hitters for strikeouts.
• I also asked Mac about pace. Is it taught to pitchers? He said, yes, the coaches emphasize it every spring. Unfortunately, some pitchers can speed up, and some pitchers really struggle with it. Then Mac told me something I hadn’t thought of: Pace also can be the catcher’s fault.
The Royals’ coaches have been asking catcher Salvador Perez to get the signs down faster. Sal has apparently will watch an opposing hitters prepare to bat (adjusting his batting gloves, taking practice swings, etc.) and then puts down the sign once the batter steps in the box.
Mac has asked Sal to give the signs while the hitter goes through all his gyrations and have the pitcher ready to throw as soon as the batter steps in the box.
• In the fifth inning, the Royals put base running Eric Hosmer in motion with one out and a 3-2 count to Jeff Francoeur. The idea of putting the runner in motion is this (and I think I’ve explained this before): Ball four, no harm no foul. A fastball for a strike, and the hitter probably will get at least a piece of it. Off-speed for a strike, and the runner has a great chance to steal the base.
The Oakland pitcher threw Frenchy a change-up. Frenchy missed it, and Hosmer stole the base … for about a tenth of a second. Eric over-slid and was tagged out, but still, the logic was good. (You also can line-out into a double play, but standing still has its risks, too.)
The strikeout and Alex Gordon
Alex told me he would like to cut down on his strikeouts in the future, and I asked him whether he thought he had been too selective with two strikes (Alex leads the Royals in strikeouts looking). Alex said maybe, but he couldn’t remember too many times he thought he had been screwed by an umpire.
I pointed out that Alex is left-handed, can run a bit and even slapping a weak grounder the other way with two strikes would give him a chance. I also pointed out that he was listening to a cartoonist on the subject of hitting … but I still think I’m right.
How you steal a base
OK, the runner gets down to first, and first-base coach Doug Sisson leans in his ear and says, “One-point-three, shoulder.” This means that the opposing pitcher takes 1.3 seconds to deliver the ball to home plate and that the shoulder is the body part that will indicate whether the pitcher is going to first or home.
The runners know what time they can generally beat.
• Mitch Maier can beat a 1.4.
• Johnny Giavotella can beat a 1.4.
• Alex Gordon can beat a 1.4.
• Chris Getz can beat a 1.3.
• Jeff Francoeur says he can beat a 1.3 and a half. (I can’t get a straight answer out of that guy.)
• Eric Hosmer can beat a 1.5 (which means he has to be very selective about when he goes).
Mike Moustakas said he also can beat a 1.5, but there aren’t many of those around. I pointed out that Detroit closer Jose Valverde is a 1.5 when a runner is on first base and a 1.7 when a runner’s on second. Mike then pointed out that you have to get on base against Valverde to take advantage of those numbers.
Hmmm. Good point. Moose prefers to not steal and instead concentrates on secondary leads and taking the extra base.
Here’s the point to all of this: Royals base-runners are not taking off because they have a good feeling or they feel fast that day. It’s based on math. That doesn’t mean the runner will be safe every time. Other factors intrude. Catchers obviously affect things. The Indians’ Lou Marson is quick. The Indians’ Carlos Santana is slow, so the Royals ran more against Santana. (Two seconds flat is fairly normal for a catcher to deliver a ball to second base. Salvador Perez recently threw a 1.88, so think about how that affects the other team.)
Johnny Giavotella told me that you might be right on the edge of being safe, “I can beat a 1.4, but not a 1.3. This guy’s a 1.4.” Then you take off for second and you see the pitcher used a slide step. The edge is gone.
When you get invited to see the inner workings of a major-league baseball team (and people are only talking to me so I can talk to you), it’s impressive to find out how well-thought out most of the decision-making is. Like I said, not every move works, but the moves are made because someone has spent a lot of time figuring out which move had the best chance of working at that time.
And I can beat a 4.5 … wind-aided.