Games » Chicago White SoxSep25
How a steal that never happened helped the Royals win
The Kansas City Star
The Royals did not steal a base in this game, so how did base stealing help them win?
Man, I thought you’d never ask. Chicago starter Gavin Floyd walked Jarrod Dyson to start the game. Tim Bogar, the third-base coach for the Boston Red Sox, has taught me to pay attention to what a pitcher does out of a slide step, and what Floyd did out of the slide step was throw the ball higher in the strike zone.
(Sorry if I repeat myself on occasion, but as a reader recently pointed out, not everybody gets to read every post, every day. … Honestly, I don’t know what you’re doing with your lives, but pick up the pace. I’m a busy guy.)
Anyway, as I’ve explained before and apparently will again, when a pitcher goes into a slide step, he’s trying to get his foot down quicker. And if he hasn’t worked hard at it, his arm can be on the old schedule. That makes the arm late and the release point high, and that makes the ball stay up.
So with Dyson on first base, Melky Cabrera got some very good pitches to hit, but he couldn’t take advantage. Melky grounded into a double play, and Floyd did not have another base runner until the sixth inning. With no runners on base, Floyd could lift his front leg as high as he liked. When he did that, his curveball was outstanding, which explains his 10 strikeouts.
So I’m thinking, “Man, they need another fast base runner to get Floyd back into that slide step.” Then Lorenzo Cain led off the sixth with a single. With the game scoreless, I thought the Royals might have Chris Getz bunt, but as I’ve learned (and it sounds like some of you have, too) Ned Yost always has a reason for what he does. And what he did was have Getz swing away.
Later, I looked up the matchup numbers, and coming into this game Chris was 3-for-6 against Floyd, which is a small sample, but it tells you Chris probably would have a good plate appearance. And then there’s the Chris-is-left-handed-and-Alcides-Escobar-is-right-handed factor, so there you go. Getz is swinging away, and if he’s successful, Escobar is bunting.
Floyd was back in the slide step because he was afraid Cain was going to steal. As a result, his curveball became much more hittable. He hung one in the zone, Getz lined it into center, Escobar bunted Getz and Cain over and Dyson doubled. Two runs instead of one, because Chicago was trying to stop the stolen base.
And that’s how a steal that never happened helps you win a ball game.
• It’s not like a pitcher never throws a bad pitch unless he’s in a slide step. The pitch Dyson banged for a double came with Floyd lifting his knee all the way. Cain was on third and Getz was on second, so Gavin was no longer worried about the stolen base. But slide steps do make it more likely that a pitch will be up in the zone. And Getz struck out twice against Floyd when he wasn’t in the slide step.
• Cain got some base-running points when he recognized a pitchout in the Getz at-bat and shut down a steal attempt. Cain scrambled back to first and was safe, allowing two runs to score later.
• I was surprised the Royals didn’t steal more in this series. In one game they had a big lead and in this game the track was wet, so that may be part of it.
• Jerry Meals, the home-plate umpire, threw a fresh ball to the pitcher at one point, and that reminded me of something Jason Kendall once said: Umpires who like to throw the ball to the pitcher are awesome. It’s just one more toss the catcher doesn’t have to make.
• In Juan Pierre’s first at-bat, you could see Royals catcher Salvador Perez tap his glove on the ground in an 0-2 count. If you watched the Brayan Pena video we currently have posted on the home page, you know that is a signal to the pitcher to bounce the pitch. Luis Mendoza didn’t, and it got whacked into left field for a hit.
• Perez later threw out a runner, and I was careful to check the placement of Chris Getz’ feet. If the catcher throws straight, Getz can straddle the bag. If the catcher’s throws sail, Chris has to come out in front of the bag so he can move laterally to corral the throw. Getz appeared to straddle and then made an almost balletic move to not get spiked when the throw pulled him slightly toward the runner.
• Paul Konerko took a borderline pitch from Mendoza and got the call. That reminded me of another thing I heard (I can’t remember who said it): Don’t nibble in a crucial situation against a star player, the star will get the call.
• If you wondered why Jarrod Dyson did not steal third with one out in the sixth after his double, it might have been because Melky Cabrera was up there batting left-handed. That gives the catcher a clear lane to throw to third base.
• It’s always interesting to listen to other announcers cover a Royals game. White Sox broadcasters Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone were very complimentary about the Royals players.
• Steve Stone made an interesting point: To pitch out of the zone, you have to be ahead of the hitter. Otherwise, the hitter feels no need to chase borderline pitches. It’s funny how many pitchers try to pitch out of the zone from the get-go and then have to come into the zone once they fall behind.
• Harrelson liked how Mendoza was pitching inside. Royals pitching coach Bob McClure uses the phrase “in to win.” Mac means you can’t be successful on the outside corner if you won’t back the hitters off with a pitch on the inside corner.
• Jeff Montgomery told me to watch for this: Two out, 2-0 count. What he meant was a pitcher will get two quick outs and then lose concentration, feeling as if he is almost out of the inning. Then he won’t bear down. You saw this in the fourth inning when Mendoza got two quick outs and then walked Paul Konerko on four pitches. On the other hand, maybe Luis was working around Konerko.
• Perez had a couple of blocked pitches with a runner on third … you do the math.
I hope you guys are in the mood for some long posts these last few days of the season. I’m going through my leftover stuff and posting some of it before it goes bad like an over-ripe banana. Here are a few pieces that haven’t turned black, but are starting to get spots on them.
First day on the job
When Bob McClure met Zack Greinke for the first time, Zack said, “I don’t listen to pitching coaches, I won’t throw a changeup and I won’t throw a two-seamer .” This was in spring training, and after saying that to Mac, Grienke got on the mound and started throwing as hard as he could.
The ball was going all over the place. In response, Zack tried to throw harder and harder. Mac finally walked to the mound and said, “If that’s what you’re going to do, you might as well leave the field before you hurt yourself.” Zack walked into the clubhouse and quit baseball.
When Bob got to the clubhouse, Buddy Bell, then the Royals manager, said, “You just got our Number One prospect to quit. … Good first day on the job.”
Mac told me this story, and I’m telling it to you so we can all understand what some of these coaches go through. Eventually, Zack came back to baseball, listened to a pitching coach and threw a change-up and a two-seamer, but not before he learned to trust Bob McClure.
Everybody gets very impatient, but some things take time. Players need to adjust to the league, coaches need to win trust and guys with websites need to hang out a lot until people tell him stories like this one.
Bunting the runner over from second
OK, runner on second, nobody out, you get the bunt sign. Where do you want the ball to go? Every instructional manual in the world says third base. If you make the third baseman field the ball, nobody is there to cover the bag, and the runner goes in standing up.
So why does a really good bunter like Chris Getz disagree? Chris made an interesting point when we talked about this play. Sure, ideally, forcing the third baseman to field the ball opens up the bag, but you’re giving yourself a very narrow lane for success. Too close to the mound and the pitcher picks the ball up moving toward third, the third baseman retreats to the bag and they can have a very easy play on the runner.
If you force the pitcher to pick the ball up on the first-base side of the mound, he’s almost sure to go to first. And if a charging first baseman picks that ball up, at least he’s got to throw all the way across the infield. If the first baseman is right-handed, the throw gets even tougher.
The main lesson here is there’s more than one way to skin a cat. …And what sick S.O.B. thought up that cliché?
In a Sunday day game I noticed Johnny Giavotella was wearing flip-down sunglasses. Even though they make more sense, they’re not the eyewear of choice anymore for major leaguers.
Of course, the cool sunglasses are worn on the back of the head now (it’s been mandated that the players can’t block the team logos on the front of the cap) and as anyone can tell you, sunglasses on the back of the head don’t do you a whole lot of good. Let’s hope Gio starts a trend back to the flip-downs.
(Man, I sound like the Andy Rooney of baseball.)
The high fastball
Hitters need to lay off the high fastball, at least if it’s a really good fastball. The bat head starts to drop when the swing starts and it’s almost impossible (“almost” being the important word in that sentence) to ‘stay on top’ of a fastball up in the zone (up meaning around the letters).
(A semi-short digression: “Staying on top” means the bat head never goes below the level of the ball). Soooo … if the pitcher has a really good fastball, the hitter wants something a bit down. Say between the belt and mid-thigh.
Conversely, hitters want high breaking pitches. They have less velocity, and it’s easier to square one up. Off-speed down tends to keep going down on out of the zone. This is all dependent on the pitcher being good. If the pitcher sucks, hitters just want him to show up on time, throw strikes and be ready to duck.
When people ask about this website, I tell them I’m making it up as I go along, which unfortunately, is all too true. This project started with me being asked if I would be willing to watch most of the Royals games and enter information into a program that tracked the team’s defensive play. I looked at what The Star had, and was less than thrilled with what it would reveal. Eventually I suggested using Ron Polk’s system for measuring player contribution.
I was aware of Ron’s system, but I had never used it before. It seemed to encompass enough categories to start an interesting conversation about baseball, and that was what I originally had in mind. I wanted to bring the conversations I had been having with players and coaches for decades back to the public.
The game notes covering those conversations quickly took over the Polk system as the main object of reader interest (although some people still like to argue about the scoring). By accident or instinct I decided to skip a lot of the news conferences, focus on small details, never taking notes while having a conversation because then it’s an interview (I jot notes afterward and only use short quotes that I can recall verbatim) and make videos with no introductions. We just start talking, and the videographer, John Sleezer, turns on the camera at some point.
All this (and my tendency to give players a hard time) has led to an interesting relationship with the people I cover. I’m not going to pretend to not like them or be disinterested in the team’s fortunes. It’s a lot more fun and interesting to cover a winning ball club. It’s a lot more fun to talk to a happy player than a depressed one.
I’m sure some people feel I’ve crossed the line with the players at times, but some of those hijinks opened up relationships to the point that I can ask someone like Jeff Francoeur where the hell that throw was going in the seventh inning and get an honest answer. For me, I’ve gone too far when I refuse to criticize a player because I like him. But at this point, I think players know I’m not coming at this in a negative way and if I ask about a play that went wrong, they’ve seen me write enough positive stuff to not take offense. The guys I’ve asked about agree: the stuff between the white lines is fair game and that’s all a reporter can ask for.
The grinders …
After every game, Ned Yost holds a news conference. After the Opening Day game, the room was so full people were standing against the walls. The next night, I counted seven people in the room. After doing this for a full season, I’ve got enormous respect for the media “grinders.” The people who are out there game after game, grinding it out, gathering the information that forms a picture of a player, a team or a season.
Guys like The Star’s Bob Dutton. Bob is one of the guys who will tell you to go slow when you’re getting ready to say someone’s awful or great. It takes a long time to reach a worthwhile conclusion and you can’t do it after one game or looking at one stat or visiting one website (including this one).
The other day I was watching a game with my son, and a couple of nationally known baseball analysts came on and I said, “These guys are full of @#&%.” (I’m raising that boy right, ain’t I?) He asked why and I said, “There’s no way these guys are experts on 30 teams. They show up for the day, probably pump a beat writer for some information and then go on TV and act like they’re insiders.”
I’m not a grinder yet. One season isn’t enough to qualify. But I’m working on it. I need to watch a lot more baseball … and put on about 40 pounds … but I think I’m just the guy to do it.
Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur looks ahead to next year
Jeff Francoeur and The Star's Lee Judge talk about the season and what to look forward to with next year's team. September 4, 2011 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)