Games » Oakland AthleticsSep6
The better you are, the fewer great plays you make
In the eighth inning, Oakland’s Hideki Matsui hit a ground ball up the middle and Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar caught it pretty much behind second base and threw Matsui out. Frank White, the Royals’ TV analyst, then said a brilliant thing: The better you are, the fewer great plays you make. (Frank says a lot of brilliant things, but you gotta listen close. He likes to slide them by in a low-key manner.)
I had wondered why Alcides was scoring fewer outstanding defensive plays in the system I’m scoring, and Frank’s comment made the light go on over my head. Positioning. Alcides is making fewer of those diving stops because he has standing in the right place more often. Esky is getting better at positioning (or he’s getting better at listening to coach Eddie Rodriguez when he positions him.)
Chris Getz pretty much said the same thing. At times he’s been sent out to replace Johnny Giavotella at second base because at this point in Gio’s career, Getz knows the hitters better. Chris said fans love the diving stop, but what about standing in the right spot to begin with?
So the next time you see a routine play, remember: The better you are, the fewer great plays you make.
• After Danny Duffy led off the third inning by giving up two walks, manager Ned Yost got in his young starter’s ear. Whatever Ned said worked because Danny threw strikes until he walked one more batter in the seventh. Paul Splittorff used to say that one of the things rookie pitchers have to learn is that big-league hitters won’t chase pitches out of the strike zone the way minor-leaguers will.
• All four Oakland runs were on walks that scored. (I’ve got nothing to add to this stat.)
• In the second inning, Yamaico Navarro lost a double because of good base running. Navarro came up with Johnny Giavotella on second and Salvador Perez on first. Yamaico hit the ball over the right fielder’s head (barely), and Giavotella did what a base runner is supposed to do with nobody out on a questionable catch: He went back to tag second. The idea is, if the ball’s caught, to end up on third with one out. Perez did what he was supposed to do: go as far as he could, which was second base. So when the ball dropped, Gio was still on second with Sal nearby. The worst base running was by Navarro, who almost ran up Perez’s back, thinking he had a double.
• Jeff Francoeur got his 20th stolen base. Maybe he’ll calm down now.
• In the fifth inning, Perez was on second base with two outs when Navarro hit a groundball to short. Sal shut it down early coming into third base, but with two outs, there’s not much point. I’ve seen runners just round third and head home because the only way the inning was going to continue was if there were an error.
In this case, there was. An E6. I’m not sure the ball got far enough way for Sal to score, and he eventually made it home on a bases-loaded walk. But base runners should always assume they are going to the next base. They can always shut it down if that’s not possible, but shutting it down early can cost you an opportunity.
• It looked as though Giavotella failed to cover second base on a ball hit to Navarro at third. There were two outs, and it looked as if Johnny assumed the play would be at first base. Yamaico caught the ball deep and wanted to throw to second, but there was no one there. (I’ll check on this one.)
I recently walked up to pitching coach Bob McClure and asked him what the Royals organizational philosophy was on the 0-2 pitch. That started a conversation that went on for a couple of hours over the next two days. Mac was throwing information at me by the bucketful, and I was catching it in thimbles, but here’s some of the stuff I remember.
• When Louis Coleman gave up those home runs recently, it was because he got slider-happy. Hitters were walking up to the plate, sitting on pitch and location, and when they got it, teed off. Louis needed to mix in more fastballs and change the hitters’ eye levels.
• If you’re going to throw the same pitch over and over (like Mariano Rivera), you better be perfect with it. Rivera’s cutter has been near-perfect for a long time, but as Mariano ages, the cutter is beginning its movement a bit sooner and hitters have been starting to catch that pitch out in front.
• When Joakim Soria needed a tune-up, Mac went to an old pitching drill: throwing off the back side of the mound. The catcher comes out in front of home plate and the pitcher is forced to deliver the ball uphill. That makes the pitcher focus on finishing off his pitches to keep the ball down. Come back on top of the mound, and the pitcher is now down in the zone.
• Pitchers who are down in the zone (around the knees) can use the whole plate with success. Pitchers who are up in the zone have to be on the corners.
• Pitchers who get themselves in trouble are generally trying to be too fine. Go back to throwing low strikes and don’t worry about hitting a corner.
• The most important factor in a pitchers success is being down, second most is back and forth (changing speeds) and third is in-out (hitting corners).
• Mac wants Danny Duffy to stay “in the lane”: (imagine a lane the width of the plate going out to the mound) and let his three pitches of various speeds, movements and location do the work for him.
• To do that, Danny needs to perfect his mechanics, the way a free-throw shooter does, and not be all over the place on each delivery. Duff needs a “repeatable delivery.”
• The most important counts are 0-0, 1-1 and 2-2. What pitchers do in these “even counts” dictates the outcome of the at-bat, especially 1-1. The pitcher is either about to go 1-2 and dominate the at-bat, or he will go 2-1 and hand control over to the batter.
• Pitchers try to be far too fine in the 0-0 count. A hitter who swings at the first pitch is doing the pitcher a favor most of the time.
• The Royals employ their own numbers guys to supply them with the information they need. And the numbers are specific to the Royals.
• When the Royals talk about “control,” they mean being in the zone. When they talk about “command,” they mean being able to hit the four quadrants of the zone: up and in, low and away, down and in and up and away.
• The change-up is a great pitch in a fastball count, but at times, a two-seamer might be better. When McClure was a pitcher, catcher Ted Simmons once told Mac that if he threw a good change-up at 2-0, the batter might swing and miss. Mac would then still be in a fastball count at 2-1. What then, another change? The fastball the hitter is sitting on? Ted suggested a two-seamer with sink instead. The hitter reads fastball, triggers and hits the top half for a grounder.
• It’s better to get the ball hit on the ground than in the air. An extra-base hit on the ground has to be down the line. An extra-base hit in the air can be anywhere if the batter is strong enough.
• You can double up on a pitch with most hitters. Don’t throw the same pitch twice in a row to a great hitter.
• And, finally, what’s that 0-2 policy? Stay in the lane to start and end up out of the lane. Down out of the lane is the best. Hitters can see lateral movement early and lay off. A pitch that starts in the lane and dives down is hard to detect.
Hey, great job. Now here’s your reward
When a minor-league team does well, it makes the playoffs. (It’s just that kind of insight that keeps you coming back to this website isn’t it?) But that means the guys who normally would get called up to the big leagues in September need to stay in the minors and play those games. It wouldn’t be fair to the fans in those cities to raid the teams.
So the guys in Omaha, Northwest Arkansas and Kane County played so well that their reward is not coming to the big leagues until their playoff games are over. Has anyone mentioned baseball can be cruel?