Games » Minnesota TwinsSep14
He's about to pop
The Kansas City Star
That’s how Royals pitching coach Bob McClure described Zack Greinke right before Zack took off as a pitcher. Mac recently used the same words to describe Luke Hochevar. As I point out on occasion (like once a week), this is the toughest baseball league in the world. A few people, very few people, figure it out right away. Most people take awhile. Some take months and some take years. Just look at Alex Gordon.
As numerous people have reported (and you now can add me to that list), Hochevar is 6-3 with a 3.52 ERA in his 12 starts since the All-Star break. That doesn’t mean he never will struggle again, it just means he has figured out how to have a nice, long stretch of good pitching.
And if he can continue this into 2012, maybe the Royals are about to pop, too.
I asked Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson about the defensive positioning against the Twins’ Joe Mauer. The Royals played Joe to hit the ball the other way in the outfield and pull the ball on the infield, which is not an uncommon combination. Doug said that was what the spray charts showed.
So when Mauer came to the plate, there was a big gap between right fielder Jeff Francoeur and the foul line. That meant that the Royals’ pitchers could not make a mistake inside or Mauer could hit the ball into that gap for extra bases. And for two days the Royals’ pitchers did not let him take advantage of that gap.
In the first game of the series, Mauer flew out to center, struck out twice and had an infield single to the left side. In the second game, he walked, grounded out to second, flew out to left and walked twice. (The walks aren’t ideal, but the pitchers limited the damage.)
When Minnesota’s Ben Revere came to the plate, the Royals also played him to hit the ball the other way, but with a significant difference. With the left-handed Mauer, Alex Gordon was deep (telling you that the Royals thought Joe could drive the ball the other way). With the left-handed Revere, Alex Gordon was shallow (telling you the Royals did not think Ben could drive the ball the other way). Sisson said it’s not just where you stand on defense, but how deep you stand based on how hard you think the batter can hit the ball in the direction you’re standing.
You’re missing some interesting information if you’re not paying attention to the shifts on defense when a new batter comes to the plate. Those shifts tell you how the team plans on pitching the hitter and who won the battle of that at-bat.
Heads-up base running
In the sixth inning, Mike Moustakas doubled with one out. Johnny Giavotella then hit a grounder to short. Despite the ball being to his right, Mike advanced to third. I figured that was either really good base running or really bad. I asked Mike about it after the game.
Mike said he advanced because Danny Valencia, the Twins’ third baseman, broke to the hole when the grounder was hit. Moose said that meant Valencia would have had to stop and return to the bag. Trevor Plouffe, the Twins’ shortstop, then would have had to throw a fade pass over Moustakas and lead Valencia to the bag. So Moose advanced. (Now let’s see if Doug Sisson tells me that’s all wrong.)
Some of the stuff Sisson already told me
• The Twins’ outfield played at an average depth. Their centerfielder, Revere, has good speed, but the Royals tried to challenge his arm when they got the opportunity. Any time Revere was moving laterally — even if he was fairly shallow — the Royals tried to take advantage. There was a whole lot of going first to third in this game.
• In reaction to the Royals’ base running, the rest of the league has sped up. Doug said that the delivery times of opposing pitchers are going down, but that means more slide steps which can mean hittable pitches up in the strike zone. (The pitcher’s bottom half is faster, but his arm is lagging behind which changes the release point.)
• In reaction to the league’s reaction to them, the Royals now are looking for breaking-ball counts to run in. They keep track of which pitch is the percentage pitch in which count with which pitcher.
• Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak delivers the ball to home plate in 1.2 seconds. That means Jarrod Dyson can steal on him, but he would have to get a running start from Omaha. The Royals would like to have Jarrod here, but the Storm Chasers need to finish their postseason.
• Interestingly enough, most closers do not have great moves or particularly quick delivery times. They have stuff and tend to go after hitters and ignore base runners.
• Melky Cabrera is showing more range in center field, not because he’s faster, but because he’s getting better jumps and reads.
You’re on your own
I asked Chris Getz who should have covered second base that night that third baseman Yamaico Navarro tried to go the short way for the out and left the base uncovered. I still don’t know, but Chris told me there are times nobody can get there. If Getz is in an extreme shift with a fast runner on first base, Chris will signal to the third baseman that he’s not going to get to the bag in time. Then the third baseman would have to go across the diamond for the out. They also have a sign for “I’ll be there,” letting their teammates on the left side of the infield know they’ve got that option if they need it.
Wednesday’s game was a 3:10 p.m. start in mid-September, so I figured shadows would cross home plate at some point. (Turns out it was just about 4:10). When the pitcher is in the sun and the batter is in the shade, the ball goes from light to dark (duh) and the eye has a hard time adjusting that quickly. The hitter can lose the ball, at least temporarily. In that case, what is the best pitch to take advantage of the situation?
I asked Everett Teaford and Louis Coleman, and they said fastball. The hitter is going to lose the ball, and the fastball will get on him quicker. I asked Mitch Maier and Mike Moustakas, and they said breaking pitch. The trajectory would be harder to track.
Bruce Chen walked by, so I asked him, and he said just keep pitching and mixing it up, but work quick and use the shadows to your advantage while you have them.
Y’know, there’s a reason Bruce has survived this long in the big leagues.
The lost weekend
I’m going out of town until Sunday. My son Paul is going to score the games and add a few notes to some stuff I’ve already written. I think we’ve got the logistics worked out, but you never know. Everybody hang in there, and I’ll be checking in from Marceline, Mo., every day.
Leading off first with Royals coach Doug Sisson and Lee Judge
Kansas City Royals first base coach Doug Sisson explains to the Star's Lee Judge how the team leads off from first base. 9/14/11 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)