Games » Toronto Blue JaysApr21
The Kansas City Star
Here are just a few of the theories I’ve heard that explain the Royals current losing streak:
They don’t care enough. They care too much. Alex Gordon needs to have his eyes checked. Eric Hosmer needs to go back to the minors. Greg Holland needs to be the closer. Greg Holland needs to go back to the minors. Jarrod Dyson needs to be the lead-off hitter. Billy Butler needs to be the first baseman. Ned Yost has lost the confidence of the team. Jeff Francoeur should not buy pizzas for opposing fans. The team needs to get in more fights. Ned Yost needs to be fired. Dayton Moore needs to be fired. The Glass family should be impeached (or whatever it is you do with owners you don’t like). Jonathan Broxton lost that game in Oakland on purpose because he didn’t like what someone said to him. There is a plot against Johnny Giavotella. Ned Yost stays with pitchers too long. Ned Yost doesn’t stay with pitchers long enough. Yuniesky Betancourt is the anti-Christ. (I exaggerated a bit on the last one, but not by much.)
First-base coach Doug Sisson has another theory: The Royals aren’t playing good fundamental baseball.
In Saturday’s game, starter Luis Mendoza threw some low strikes with a good downhill plane. At other times, his ball flattened out and stayed up in the strike zone. Guess which ones got hit? When a pitcher falls behind, he gets into “fastball counts” Counts of 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 and 3-2 (depending on the situation) are considered fastball counts — a count in which the pitcher needs a strike and a fastball is his best chance of getting one.
Give a major-league hitter a fastball when he expects a fastball, and bad things tend to happen. Mendoza threw a 2-1 fastball to Kelly Johnson — single. Mendoza threw a 2-1 fastball Eric Thames — double. Everett Teaford threw a 3-1 fastball to Brett Lawrie — single. Teaford followed that up with a 2-1 fastball to Colby Rasmus — home run. Kelvin Herrera threw way too good a pitch at 0-2 and gave up a home run to Edwin Encarnacion. Herrera threw another 2-1 fastball to Colby Rasmus — home run.
Throwing low strikes and staying out of fastball counts are a big part of playing good fundamental baseball. As general manager Dayton Moore told me the other day, “Until we execute, we’ll lose.”
But I still think someone should make sure Yuni isn’t the anti-Christ.
I asked manager Ned Yost after the game whether the Royals’ two-strike approach was a concern. Royals hitters have struck out looking with runners in scoring position an awful lot. Ned said he thought the hitters were sometimes being too picky and needed to get those balls in play. That’s part of turning this thing around.
I went back and added a couple of mental errors to Friday night’s game. As I have said before, it is easier to know what is going on when the team is here in town — I can go ask somebody. Apparently, the Royals’ base-running rule on line drives that are head-high or lower is to go back to the bag.
I had always heard “freeze on a line drive,” but as Sisson pointed out, what good does that do? If a base runner has taken a secondary lead, he still is too far away from the bag. So on Friday’s triple play, Yuniesky Betancourt was doing the right thing — heading back to the bag. Unfortunately, the first baseman was closer to bag than Yuni was.
Alex Gordon, on the other hand, took a step and froze. By the time he saw that the ball had been caught, it was too late. Sisson told me that going back to the bag on line drives may mean a runner can’t score from second base, but that’s better than a double or triple play.
The other mental mistake goes to Alcides Escobar for stealing third base with the Royals trailing by two runs in the ninth inning. He was not the tying run, and he should have been able to score on any base hit. The Blue Jays were in a “no doubles” defense, which meant the throw after a base hit was going to second base. (You can spot this from the stands. The signal is a hand behind the head.) The Jays didn’t care about a run scoring and preferred to keep the double play in order.
Sisson pointed out that if the right-handed pitcher, Sergio Santos, had pulled an “inside move” (picking the front foot up and spinning back toward second), the game would have ended on a pickoff. The risk was not worth the reward.
Plays such as this are a result of players pressing and taking risks, which result in poor fundamentals. Baseball is a calculating game. The emotions that some fans want to see just makes things worse. George Brett’s personal mantra in clutch situations was “try easier.”
But what does he know about baseball?
Who knew? I did the math and figured out that every 0.10-second delay when a pitcher delivered the ball to home plate meant 2.28 feet. Wrong again. Doug Sisson said it actually is two running steps. So a pitcher who takes 1.3 seconds to throw the ball home means you’re out — 1.4 can mean you’re safe. Easily.
Before the game, third baseman Mike Moustakas was fielding slow rollers while Royals third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez watched. Like everything else the team does, this play was being broken down into its smallest parts. If Mike’s head came up too soon, he was likely to miss the ball. The level of the ball dictated the arm angle used. In the past, Mike wanted to straighten up and throw over the top. Eddie explained that the time lost while standing up would not be made up by the throw.
So Mike has to get a feel for firing the ball from underneath, while bent over. Some of the throws were on target, a few weren’t. “If you’re going to miss, miss to the outfield side,” Eddie said. I asked him what that meant, and he explained that balls thrown from this extreme angle tail to the right. Miss on the outfield side, and the ball may tail back to the first baseman. Miss on the infield side, and the tailing ball will pull the first baseman into the runner.
One more thing: The throw has to be made off the right foot. When throwing off the right foot, the body is open toward first base, and the throw are easier. Throw off the left foot, and the body is closed, and the throws get much more difficult. Like most things you don’t have to do, when a pro does it, the whole thing seems easy. Watch how many things have to be done right, and you get a new appreciation for the play.
Two things 1.) On this blog’s home page, we have a video of this play with Eddie demonstrating the correct procedure. 2.) Mike made this play in last night’s game — by straightening up. I asked him afterward whether Eddie was on him about not throwing from underneath. Mike said he just wasn’t comfortable with that arm angle yet and will break it out in a game when it was ready.