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As good a catch as you'll ever see
Let’s start with where he started: Jeff Francoeur was probably playing comparatively shallow. Since it was on TV, I couldn’t tell for sure, but playing shallow is the Royals philosophy. Clint Hurdle once told me that for every ball that goes over your head, 10 will land in front, so where do you think you ought to stand? Doug Sisson says the Royals intend to defend the good pitch, not the bad one. So, bottom line: Jeff Francoeur probably had a long way to run.
Let’s move on to what direction Frenchy was running: back. It’s much easier to run forward, which is why amateur outfielders all want to stand deep. It may not be smart baseball, but at least the outfielders are comfortable while they’re losing. On a ball in front, everything is in front. The outfielder sees the ball and where he’s going. On a ball behind the outfielder, he’s running blind. He also may lose sight of the ball when he checks to see the position of the wall.
Which brings up the wall: lots of outfielders don’t like playing the wall. Last season, Scott Podsednik would pull up when he hit the warning track and make half-hearted attempts to catch any ball near the wall. Running full speed at the wall is not a normal reaction (so appreciate it when you see it). Even more rare is the outfielder who can use the wall. Last night, Jeff Francoeur used the wall.
Here’s how you do it: run like a bat out of hell toward this solid object and just when anyone in their right mind would be slowing down, leap at the wall. Use your spikes to dig into the wall’s padding, gain a foothold and propel yourself even higher. (We’ve got a video that shows how Alex Gordon did this on a ball down the left field line in Kauffmann and Mitch Maier recently did the same thing down the right field line. I don’t recall Melky Cabrera doing this right off the top of my head, but I kind think he has, maybe in St. Louis, so that’s four outfielders who aren’t afraid of the wall.)
Using his spikes like a set of crampons is how Jeff Francoeur ended up with his upper body above the wall. Once he was there he had to deal with a fan who was also trying to catch the ball, so things got even more complicated. Now here’s a bit of baseball etiquette: if you’re a fan of the home team and one of its players is trying to make the catch, get the heck out of the way. If the visiting team is going for the ball, throw an elbow. The woman trying to take the ball from Frenchy was also minding a sign that tallied Ichiro Suzuki’s hits. I think it’s safe to say a woman displaying a sign called the “Ichi-meter” was not a Royals fan, so Jeff had his hands full.
OK, so this was a great catch because of where Jeff Francoeur started, the direction he ran, the way he played the wall and dealt with the distraction of a fan trying to catch the same ball. Anything else?
My son Paul had decided he wanted to play baseball on a 3&2 team and it looked like they were going to make him an outfielder. I grabbed a fungo bat and bag of balls and we headed for a nearby field where I proceeded to hit him fly ball after fly ball. A lot of them weren’t getting caught and Paul finally said in frustration, “Dad, I don’t know where these are coming down.”
I totally sympathized and said, “I know, but the only cure is seeing more fly balls.” We kept at it and about two weeks later I got a hold of one a little better than I intended and hit the ball well over his head. He took off like a shot and made the catch over his shoulder on a dead run. A catch he was totally incapable of two weeks earlier. Experience had improved his skills.
So when you see Jeff Francoeur take off like a shot, run a long way, hit the wall and use it to propel himself higher, and arrive at the right spot at the right time to make that catch, you’re seeing the culmination of years of experience. Thousands of fly balls caught on Little League, high school, minor league and major league fields that taught Jeff when to break, what direction to run, how to climb the fence and arrive at the right time in the right spot.
Enjoy it. That was as good a catch as you’ll ever see.
The shallow positioning of the outfield means balls that look like a hit off the bat, like Dustin Ackley’s line drive to center field in the first can get caught. But it also means balls hit hard in the gap can get through. So what looks like a bad route by an outfielder might be caused by that shallow positioning. It also might be a bad route by an outfielder.
Royals TV announcer, Frank White, who is not an easy grader, said this is the most consistent outfield he’s ever seen. They lead the league in assists and extra-base hits. All three starters were coming off sub-par years and are now having great years. Fans should enjoy this, you’re seeing something special.
Jeff Francis got slapped around last night. I don’t know enough about his situation to know if this is having an effect, but his innings are piling up. Pitchers with Francis-type stuff (not overpowering) need to be just about perfect in location. Jeff wasn’t.
As I’ve told you before, if you see Nate Adcock warming up in the pen, something bad is happening. Nate’s long relief and was in the game after 3 1/3.
Royals TV announcer Ryan Lefebvre called it a slider. MLB.com called it a knuckle curve. So just what is that pitch Nate Adcock throws? A slurve. At least that’s what he called it on the third try when talking to me. First he called it a curve, then a slider so I asked which one it was. Nate laughed and said, “A slurve, I guess. I don’t know what I throw.” So excuse anybody else’s confusion when the pitcher himself can’t define the pitch.
More stolen bases by the opposition. When the catcher can get the ball down to second in less than two seconds, those bases are being stolen on the pitcher.
Salvador Perez had a passed ball when he got in a hurry. You probably couldn’t blame that one on the pitcher being slow to the plate (Sal looked like he wanted to attempt a pick-off), but keep an eye out for this. If the pitchers are slow to the plate, Perez might try to rush thing to compensate.
A small thing, but Seattle center-fielder Trayvon Robinson was coming over to backup left-fielder Casper Wells and that allowed Wells to attempt a sliding catch (he missed). When a ball is in the gap if the fielder trying to make the catch knows the other fielder did his job and is backing up, he can leave his feet. If the other fielder is being lazy, a diving attempt may not be possible.
Mariner catcher Miguel Olivo was giving the signs using body parts. Some pitchers have a hard time seeing the fingers (this is why you sometimes see a catcher wearing white nail polish - I hope).