Games » Oakland AthleticsSep7
The big part of the field
So how did the Royals almost get no-hit by Guillermo Moscoso? They hit too many fly balls to the big part of the park.
Former Royal and current Oakland centerfielder Coco Crisp caught 10 fly balls in this game. The Royals were putting the ball in play, but they were putting the ball in play in the air and where anything less than 400 feet stayed in the park.
Think about this: In Kauffman Stadium, a fly ball caught on the warning track in center field probably has traveled more than 400 feet. When that ball is hit, everybody gets excited until they see the center fielder settle under it. Then they get back to whatever they were doing before the crack of the bat. Take that same fly ball, put it in the left- or right-field corner, and the ball clears the fence by 70 feet and fans go home talking about the prodigious blast they were lucky enough to witness.
So why don’t hitters try to hit the ball into the short part of the park all the time? Some do. They’re called power hitters and they strike out a lot and often have comparatively low batting averages. To hit the ball into the short part of the park, you’ve got to swing earlier (so you get fooled) and to hit home runs you’ve got to hit the ball in the air (and fly balls result in hits less often than ground balls).
So on Wednesday afternoon, the Royals were doing what hitting coach Kevin Seitzer preaches: hitting the ball up the middle. But they weren’t keeping the ball low. Unless you can hit it out of the park, hitting the ball in the air to a center fielder who can cover ground is a losing proposition.
The Royals didn’t have much chance to win this game, but the chance they had died in the big part of the park.
• Twice Alex Gordon struggled with balls in the sun. The ball going into the sun is not the real problem. An outfielder in the sun is constantly checking the sun’s position by holding up his glove and figuring out when he will have to use the glove to shade his eyes.
Balls that don’t get caught are the ones that go into the sun, but don’t come out until the last second. The outfielder blocks the sun with his glove and waits for the ball to appear above it. At some point, you realize the ball is not going to appear above it. The ball is traveling on a line that keeps it in the sun. This is when panic sets in. You stare up into an empty sky, knowing the ball is whistling your way, but you’re not tracking it. That is when you’ll see an outfielder turn to the side and attempt to get a fresh background on the ball (one that doesn’t include the blinding sun).
I know I’ve explained this process before, but we see so many difficult balls handled in a routine manner that we can assume it’s easy. A very good fielder like Alex Gordon losing two balls in the sun, proves it’s not.
• The A’s took a page out of the Cleveland Indians’ book and tried hitting Royals starter Bruce Chen the other way. Pitchers such as Bruce often use the judo philosophy of pitching: They use your power against you. Try to over-swing or catch the ball out in front, and you might be in trouble. Wait until you see what the pitch is going to do, and you have a better chance.
• Jeff Francoeur threw a runner out at first on what appeared to be a base hit to right. As Ryan Lefebvre, the Royals’ radio announcer, pointed out, a lot of factors have to come together to make that happen. The ball has to be well-hit, the runner has to be slow (apparently A’s outfielder Michael Young met both of those requirements), the outfielder has to have a good arm and the first baseman has to be paying attention.
I’ve seen hitters get mad when a right fielder attempts this, but I’ve never understood why. Is it the defense’s fault that you can’t run? I spent a lot of time hitting the ball to right field and thinking, “If they would throw to first, they would have me.” (Hitting the ball hard the other way and then plodding down the base line is bad combination.) It’s hard to get outs, so I say get them whenever you can. (But let’s see how funny Frenchy thinks it is when someone tries the same thing on him … if he ever hits a ball to right again.)
I’ve been trying to pay more attention to defensive positioning and what it tells you about the next at-bat. Last weekend, it was clear that the Indians were playing Jeff Francoeur to pull the ball in the infield (well, duh). The right side was open if Jeff wanted to shoot the ball that way, but that’s part of the strategy.
Defensive positioning sometimes is used to get a player out of his game and away from his strength. If Cleveland slugger Jim Thome wants to hit the ball on the ground to the left side, great. That’s better than Thome hitting flagpoles that are a mile away in right field.
In this Oakland series, when the A’s Hideki Matsui came to the plate, the Royals were positioning shortstop Alcides Escobar up the middle and second baseman Johnny Giavotella in short right field and swung toward the right-field line. That tells you a couple things: The Royals expected Matsui to pull the ball, and Matsui can’t run. The Royals pitchers got Matsui to ground into that shift five times in this series.
But last Saturday, defensive positioning backfired on the Indians at least once. Cleveland had the third baseman shifted toward shortstop against Eric Hosmer. Hos may try to pull the ball when he’s ahead in the count, but Eric told me that once he gets to two strikes (and he was 0-2 in the particular at-bat) he doesn’t mind shooting the ball the other way. Hosmer did, and it went right to where the third baseman usually would be.
Royals coach Doug Sisson repositions the Kansas City outfield once some hitters get to two strikes for that reason: guys who might regularly pull, shorten up and go the other way. The Indians didn’t make that adjustment, and Hosmer made them pay.
When people tell me baseball is boring, I tell them that there are so many things happening on the field, I don’t know where to look. Add defensive positioning to that list.
The 2012 game plan
A reader asked and I didn’t know, so I asked Doug Sisson: What’s the deal with Wil Myers? The reader had seen Myers in a minor-league game and wasn’t impressed. What do the Royals like about him?
According to Doug (and he’s seen Myers a lot), Myers has a huge upside. He was moved out from behind the plate, not because of any failing as a catcher, but because Salvador Perez was going to block any catching candidates for a long time.
The Royals like Myers’ bat and think he can be an excellent corner outfielder. Doug said don’t sweat Myers scuffling in the minors. That’s part of the plan. Players are moved up when they need the challenge of the next level. Players sometimes are promoted so they will struggle and have to figure things out. Few players dominate at one level, go to the next and dominate there. Figuring out what to do when you’re not dominating is part of the process.
And that’s why the Royals have been so patient with what they see as their team of the future. Let Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas figure out how to hit major-league pitching. Let Johnny Giavotella figure out second base. Let Salvador Perez figure out how to handle a major-league pitching staff. But let them do it now. The plan is for them to struggle in 2011 to get them ready for 2012. Doug said the Royals’ coaches don’t want a bunch of the players walking around wide-eyed at being in the major leagues for the first three months of next season.
Struggle now, not next year.