Games » Los Angeles AngelsApr6
Chen and the pen
The Kansas City Star
Earlier this week I did a sports radio talk show during which everybody present pooled their collective expertise and predicted that the Royals weakness would be the starting pitching and their strength would be the bullpen. OK, it was only one game, but last night’s 5-0 loss to the Angels reminded me why I usually avoid speculating. It’s easy to predict that the Royals will play .500 or a little better, not make the playoffs this year and have a chance in 2013 — but I don’t know and neither does anybody else.
There’s a reason they actually go out and play the games, there’s a reason we go out and watch them — nobody knows what’s going to happen. It’s a good thing to remember.
Turns out the guy with the lousy spring training ERA knew what he was doing all along; Bruce Chen did not throw all his pitches until his last two spring training starts. When he finally added his fastball from over the top, that spring training ERA started to drop. Chen looked good in those starts and better in this one. Bruce kept the Royals in the game and gave them a chance to win — and that’s what the team wants out of him. He doesn’t need to dominate (although it would be nice), he just needs to keep the Royals in the game. Mission accomplished.
Fans may have wondered why Ned Yost pulled Chen after only six innings and 75 pitches. The team’s on the road, I can’t ask, so I don’t know. But in a 0-0 game the Angels were about to come to the plate for the third time. Third ABs make a manager nervous. Hitters may have seen everything your starter has by then and when that happens, people tend to start hitting the ball really hard. Howard Kendrick, Albert Pujols and Torii Hunter were due up in the bottom of the 7th and Yost may have felt the Royals could lose the game on a single swing of the bat if he didn’t make a move.
After Aaron Crow pitched the 7th inning — striking out the side — I doubt anyone was complaining about Yost going to the pen too early. And you know if Yost had stuck with Chen and Pujols hit a bomb, people would’ve been happy to complain about Ned sticking with Chen too long.
The trouble started in the 8th inning with a Morales single between Yuniesky Betancourt and Eric Hosmer. In the past Yuni has had trouble going to his left because of bad footwork. I went back and watched the play again, but couldn’t detect a problem on this play. Smarter baseball guys than me may have seen one, but it’s something to watch in the future: how well does Betancourt go to his left when he’s at second?
Another thing to watch is the pitcher’s delivery from the windup: does he lift his knee all the way, slide step or quick step? As I’ve written before and no doubt will again, when a pitcher hurries up his front side, his arm can be late and the ball goes high. Kendrys Morales had been replaced by a pinch runner, Alexi Amarista, and Crow used a “quick step” delivery (basically rushing through the pitching motion to get the ball in the catcher’s hands more quickly) and Mark Trumbo whacked it into center field. The following hitter, Chris Ianetta, also hit a line drive, but Crow used his regular windup, so the quick step may have had nothing to do with Trumbo’s hit. It’s just something fans can look for. And with the bases loaded Greg Holland was lifting his knee all the way, so maybe the Angels were just due to unload.
Brayan Pena did not get credit for blocking a pitch with a runner on third (I usually score that an outstanding defensive play). Pena actually tried to glove the ball, missed and it appeared to hit the back of his mitt. Bruce Chen has a wild pitch in the box score this morning, but that’s another pitch Brayan should have blocked.
When you see a whole bunch of hitters in the same lineup do the same thing, it’s probably the pitcher. They say hitting’s contagious, but so is lousy pitching. Same thing in reverse: a lot of bad hacks tell me Jered Weaver had a lot of movement. The hitter starts his swing and the ball moves to a new location. When Jeff Francoeur hit that jam shot in the 4th inning, the pitch probably started down the middle.
When Chen picked off Peter Bourjos in the 3rd inning, the dugout was given credit for calling the play. Maybe, but Chen’s a “reader,” meaning a left-handed pitcher who can pick his knee up, “read” what the runner on first is doing and then decide where to throw the ball. A handy skill that’s hard to acquire.
Once again I’ll be using Ron Polk’s system for measuring player contribution to a team. Some people like it, lots of people hate it, but I’m keeping it because (A.) It forces me to pay attention and (B.) it does bring up some interesting arguments. For instance: does a player who does a lot of things OK contribute more to a team than a player who does one thing great? Does a lesser player who stays healthy contribute more to a team than a better player who keeps getting hurt?
The two hardest categories to score are “outstanding defensive play” and “mental mistake.” The first is subjective; what I think is an outstanding defensive play may not make your list. I once gave Yuniesky Betancourt points for catching a pop fly, which outraged a reader. But the pop fly was in the sun and Yuni had to use every trick in the book to catch it.
(First, the player will shield his eyes with his glove. The idea is to block the sun and wait for the ball to appear above the glove. If it doesn’t, that means the ball has reached the same height as the sun and isn’t going any higher. When that happens the fielder will try to turn sideways and try to get a new background behind the ball. If I see someone shade their eyes, then turn sideways and make the catch, I’m probably going to give them an outstanding defensive play. If you disagree I’ll give you two choices: ignore the scoring or come on out with your glove and I’ll hit you a few pop flies in the sun and see how you do.)
Mental mistakes are difficult to score because I don’t know the team’s signs, so I don’t know when a player misses one. Also, I don’t know what’s in a player’s head — especially when they’re on the road and I don’t get to talk to them afterwards. For instance: say a player makes the third out at third base (considered a cardinal sin because the player is already in scoring position at second and, with two outs, will probably score on any base hit anyway), but a run scores while the player makes the out at third.
If the player had his head up his posterior and didn’t know the situation, that’s a mental mistake. If the player knew the number of outs, but decided to trade his out to make sure the runner at the plate was safe, that’s “heads-up base running.”
Beginning to see the problem?
The Polk system is not perfect and I don’t score it perfectly. But there is something to be said for a different point of view, provided by someone who watches every game and talks with the players after every home game. If it bugs you, skip it. If it helps you think about the game, enjoy it.
P.S. Man, I’d forgotten how tired I am during baseball season — good thing there’s only 161 games to go.