Games » Minnesota TwinsSep28
The Kansas City Star
“My (stuff) doesn’t work in the playoffs.”
Two things about that quote: 1.) It was from Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s and subject of the movie “Moneyball” and 2.) He didn’t say “stuff”.
OK, so why doesn’t Beane’s “stuff” work in the playoffs? (The movie kinda skipped over the fact that the A’s were not successful in the postseason.) Well, if your offense relies on walks and home runs, what happens when you face a very good pitcher who isn’t giving up either?
Try last Friday’s St. Louis Cardinals-Philadelphia Phillies playoff game that matched Chris Carpenter against Roy Halladay: There were no home runs and only one walk (an intentional base on balls issued to Albert Pujols).
The top of the first was the only inning in which either pitcher gave up more than one hit. So if you’re not being walked or hitting home runs and can’t string together any hits, how do you score? As much as people in the sabermetrics crowd hate it, the answer is “small ball.” You’ve got to be able to move runners around the bases with productive outs, stolen bases and runners in motion.
Take a look at the bottom of the fourth inning of the same Carpenter-Halladay game: The most likely time to utilize the sacrifice bunt is with nobody out (you might do it with one out if the pitcher is at the plate, but that’s about it). So to sacrifice bunt, you have to get your leadoff batter on base. That happened to the Phillies only once, when Chase Utley got hit by a pitch to lead off the fourth.
Next, the Phillies had Hunter Pence swing away, and he grounded into a fielder’s choice. Utley was out at second, Pence was safe at first. Ryan Howard lined out softly to second baseman Nick Punto for the second out. Then Shane Victorino singled on a grounder to right fielder Lance Berkman, and Pence went first to third. Raul Ibanez ended the inning by hitting a fly ball to Berkman.
So what if Pence had used a sacrifice bunt to move Utley to second back at the start of the inning? Assuming everything stays the same (and that’s a big assumption that you should feel free to question), Utley is at second with one down, Howard lines out to make it two down, and Utley then scores on Victorino’s base hit for at least three reasons:
1.) There were two outs, so Utley would be going right away and get a good jump.
2.) It was a ground-ball single, which means it took longer to get to Berkman than a one-hop line drive.
3.) The hit was to right field, which means the catcher has to receive the ball on the first-base side of the plate and then turn back to the runner sliding in from the third-base side of the plate and make the tag. This takes longer than if the throw came from left field.
4.) (Hey! A bonus reason!) Berkman’s left-handed, so the throw would tail even farther to the first-base side than if it were delivered by a right-handed outfielder. (Lefties tend to have movement on the throws that carries the ball to their arm side.)
So for all of those reasons, if the Phillies had laid down a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning after Utley got hit by that pitch, they might have tied the game up and not lost 1-0. So am I saying that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel made a mistake by not calling for a sacrifice in that situation?
I’m not sure that I would’ve called for a sac bunt from my No. 3 hitter in the fourth inning either, but what I am saying is that sooner or later, if you go deep enough into the playoffs, you’re going to face an ace who’s dealing … and you better be ready to play some small ball.
Just ask Billy Beane.
One last great start
OK, y’know how some pitchers like to go through the order the first time throwing nothing but their fastball? Here’s what Bruce Chen threw the first time through the Twins order (hang on, this might take a while):
Sinker, slider, sinker, slider, sinker, sinker, sinker, slider, slider, sinker, slider, changeup, sinker, slider, changeup, 4-seam fastball, 4-seam fastball, sinker, curveball, 4-seam fastball, slider, 4-seam fastball, slider, sinker, sinker, slider, slider, sinker, slider, sinker, sinker, slider, sinker, curveball (hold on, let me catch my breath), changeup, slider, slider, sinker, changeup, sinker, slider…and he may have chucked the rosin bag at the batter a time or two also.
Throw in three arm angles, add a bit of velocity or take a bit off and you get some idea of how Bruce Chen put up a 3.77 ERA and led the Royals in wins this season. That’s a lot of different stuff for a hitter to deal with. I once asked Bruce if he could’ve pitched this way when he was younger and he said no way. Young guys struggle to control thee pitches, you’ve got to be around a while to juggle all these variations.
I don’t know if we just saw Bruce Chen’s last start in a Royals uniform, but it was a great one.
• Jarrod Dyson showed what he can do when he keeps the ball on the ground: two hits and just missed a third on a night Carl Pavano had pretty much everybody else stumped.
• Eric Hosmer got in a hurry on a tag or Salvador Perez would’ve picked off another base runner. Your brain is telling you to speed up and the game requires you to slow down: catch the ball, then make the tag. This is way easier said than done.
• Mike Moustakas generally does not steal bases, but he stole one in this game…and then almost immediately got picked off.
• Moose also hit a triple. Michael Cuddyer got too close to the right field wall and the ball hit the concrete above the padding and came off harder than Cuddyer thought it would. Ball park designers build all these cute quirks into their parks, but the players generally hate them. Look at all the different surfaces the ball can hit in Minnesota’s right field and you’ll see that a game can be changed not by a player’s skill, but by architecture.
• Twins center fielder Ben Revere struck out looking in the 5th inning. At the time, Twins left fielder Joe Benson was on second. What was interesting about this strikeout was the last second move Salvador Perez made. He was set up on the inside corner and at the last moment shifted to the outside corner. That might mean Perez was concerned that Revere was peeking back or Benson was signaling location from second. I’d ask Sal next time I see him, but that might be next March.
• Earlier this season Mike Moustakas cut in front of Alcides Escobar to field a grounder, didn’t get there and when Esky caught the ball, Mike stopped right in front of him. Alcides had to eat the ball or bounce it off Mike’s head and wisely chose holding on to the ball. The same thing happened in this game, but Mike ducked and gave Esky a clear throwing lane. What’s noteworthy about this is a mistake being corrected. Players are going to mess up, it’s inevitable and coaches and fans shouldn’t expect perfection. But they should expect improvement: don’t keep making the same mistake…and Mike didn’t.
• Fans are probably disappointed that the Royals weren’t able to score the run after Mike’s triple with nobody out. We’ve seen bad situational hitting here for a long time, but I don’t think that was the case here. Lorenzo Cain smoked the ball up the middle and Carl Pavano got a glove on it. Mitch Maier hit a couple of line drives foul and then was forced to swing at a 2-strike splitter and Alcides Escobar hit another hard grounder, but right at the third baseman. I went back and watched the at-bats a second time and I couldn’t say that anybody swung at pitch they should’ve laid off.
Strengths & limitations, 2011 edition
- I decided not to attempt a summary of every player who wore a Royals uniform this summer. I’m running out of time and energy (it’s been a long season). So I stuck to the main position players and the starting pitchers.*
MELKY CABRERA: Strengths: Probably had the most consistent year of any Royal. Melky never went more than two games in a row without a hit. He had 201 hits, drove in over 87, stole 20 bases and ran the bases as well as anyone. Oh yeah, and he threw people out. One-third of the best outfield the Royals have had in years. Limitations: Does not have true centerfield speed (someone told me that, I’m not smart enough to know), but can make up for some of that with improved positioning and jumps.
ALEX GORDON: Presents pitchers with a problem: power in the leadoff spot. Pitchers do not want to start a game with a leadoff walk, so instead they started it with a leadoff home run five times when they pitched to Alex. Appears to have figured things out offensively and has an approach that’s keeping him consistent. (He tries not to think about hitting home runs.) Has made himself an outstanding outfielder. Led the team in assists, partially because he charges the ball well and has a quick release, traits that may come from his days as an infielder. Limitations: Strikeouts, particularly strikeouts looking.
ERIC HOSMER: Everybody knows about his offense and he seems to adjust quickly which keeps him out of prolonged slumps. Does not get cheated on his swings. Outstanding defensively, saved the infield dozens of errors with his ability to pick short hops. Limitations: Can get a little “big” both offensively and defensively. On offense that can mean over-swinging, on defense his swipe at a short hop can get a little overdramatic…but it looks really cool.
JEFF FRANCOEUR: Strengths: Speed, good glove, terrific arm. Can go the other way when he wants to, but doesn’t always want to. When he turns on the fan, he really turns it on. Pitchers spent all season trying to get in on his hands and if they got it there, he had trouble. If they missed down and in, Frenchy smoked it. Incredibly enthusiastic. Limitations: Incredibly enthusiastic. That can lead him to take low-percentage chances at the plate, in the field or on the base paths, but he often makes those gambles pay off.
ALCIDES ESCOBAR: Strengths: Defense, defense and defense. Eric Hosmer estimates that when Esky lets one go, he throws about 97 miles an hour. Led the team in sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, outstanding defensive plays and double play assists. Esky keeps a lot of opposition base runners off the bases. Limitations: Needs to stick with the game plan of hitting the appropriate pitch to the opposite field, Alcides can’t change horses in the middle of the stream and expect to stay dry.
BILLY BUTLER: Strengths: A terrific hitter who has a chance to be an Edgar Martinez-type DH. Billy responded to suggestions that he give up some average for more pop and drove in 95 runs. Limitations: Pretty much everything else besides hitting.
CHRIS GETZ: Strengths: Does a whole lot of things well. A solid defender, a good base runner, handy with the bat and a very smart player. Limitations: Doesn’t do any one thing great and gets overlooked by people who focus on any one stat. It’s all the little stuff together that makes Chris a good ballplayer. No power.
BRAYAN PENA: Strengths: Attitude. Bench players can cause team turmoil when they’re not satisfied being bench players. I’m sure all of the players who aren’t starting would like to play more, but it seems Pena, Getz and Maier have bought into whatever role they’re asked to play. Brayan also improved his blocking and throwing this season. Limitations: At times there were concerns about Brayan’s pitch calling, which was why he was originally matched with veterans Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis. Brayan also had some problems with positioning on plays at the plate, but made changes to correct the situation.
MIKE MOUSTAKAS: Strengths: Moose went through a well-publicized slump, but now seems to have come out the other side and is showing why he’s here. Mike can hit. He’s got a strong arm and has made some nice plays at third, a definite upgrade defensively over Wilson Betemit. Limitations: Has had some problems on the transfer (ball going from glove to hand), but I imagine that will be worked on. He can also be erratic with that strong arm and puts a lot of pressure on his buddy, Eric Hosmer.
SALVADOR PEREZ: Strengths; Big, quick and a great throwing arm. I had a couple people question whether he was ready offensively, but Salvador’s hitting. (I guess nobody told him he wasn’t ready.) And hitting a ball 400+ feet the other way is big-time hitting. Limitations: Big catchers offer a great target, but can be slow to get in the correct blocking and throwing position. Sal doesn’t seem to have that problem. His size might put strain on his knees over time.
JOHNNY GIAVOTELLA: Strengths: Has power Chris Getz does not possess. A short, quick stroke that allows him to hit the ball from line to line. Limitations: His hands can be a little stiff on defense and once in a while a routine toss gets away from him.
MITCH MAIER: Strengths: Fundamentally sound in just about every phase of the game. Great attitude. Limitations: Much like Chris Getz, nothing jumps out at you as being outstanding. He’s just good at a lot of things.
JEFF FRANCIS: Strengths: Led the team in quality starts. Threw strikes. Limitations: The first inning, that’s where he’d often struggle.
LUKE HOCHEVAR: Led the staff in strikeouts, tied for most innings without a walk with Jeff Francis, second in quality starts and led the staff in innings with fewer than 12 pitches thrown. Limitations: His evil twin who led the staff in appearances in which he gave up 4 or more earned runs and walking the leadoff batter. Luke can be slow to the plate which doesn’t give Salvador Perez much of a chance. Also is currently sporting one of the worst moustaches in the history of facial hair.
BRUCE CHEN: Strengths: 6 pitches from 3 different arm angles, which is (let’s see, 3 times 6, carry the one) 18 different pitches. A bewildering variety of looks for a hitter. Limitations: No velocity, but if he slows your bat down enough with his other stuff, he can throw a fastball in the 80s past you.
FELIPE PAULINO: Strengths: Strength. Matt Treanor said he was a “beast.” (Baseball compliment.) Fastball in the upper 90s and good slider. Second on the staff in strikeouts despite having considerably fewer innings than Hochevar, Francis or Chen. Limitations: Too many walks. Tied for second on the team in walks that scored.
DANNY DUFFY: Strengths: Stuff. Limitations: Being young. Needs to learn how to use that stuff. Too many walks, nibbled too much at times. Tied with Felipe Paulino for second most walks that scored.
Y’know those awards shows where people get up and thank everyone they ever knew until the orchestra starts playing to let them know they’ve gone on way too long? Well, we don’t have an orchestra.
So, thanks to the people at the Kansas City Star that once again made this website possible: Editor Mike Fannin, Sports Editor Jeff Rosen, the Web editors who take all the profanity out late at night after I send in my copy, the IT guys who keep slapping duct tape and chewing gum on the website and especially Nicole Poell.
Thanks to the people in the Royals front office who still allow me in the building: Mike Swanson, David Holtzman, Colby Curry and Dina Blevins.
Thanks to all the players and coaches. Each and every one of them gave me time and insight at some point during the season. But I’d especially like to thank a few people who gave me way more time than I deserved: Doug Sisson, Chris Getz, Matt Treanor, Jason Kendall, Brayan Pena, Mitch Maier, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Kevin Seitzer (see you out at the batting cages), Mike Aviles, Kanekoa Texeira, Kila Ka’aihue, Kelly Heath, Bob McClure, Eddie Rodriguez, Ned Yost, Jeff Francoeur (I will get even with you for all the stuff you did to me) and especially Wilson Betemit for not kicking my butt when I said you should’ve gotten hit by that pitch.
And finally, thanks to the readers. I wasn’t sure if there were people out there who were interested in what I wanted to do. It’s nice to find out there are. I also want to thank you for being civil and intelligent. Being able to disagree without being disagreeable is a commodity in short supply.
We will be back in 2012. We’ll meet during the winter and discuss changes and improvements to the website for next season. If you have suggestions (and many of you already contributed) leave them in the comments section of the last game or send them directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s it for a while, keep watching the Star for any developments (looks like I may be going to spring training), but for now, I’m joining the Shutdown Club.
Talk to you soon.