Games » Detroit TigersMay1
The Kansas City Star
In Ron Guidry’s new book, “Driving Mr. Yogi,” Guidry describes asking Yogi Berra’s advice on how to pitch George Brett. Yogi told Ron to throw the first pitch up and in, “Then you got opportunities.” Here’s what Berra meant: Pitchers and hitters battle over territory. Pitching up and in keeps hitters from moving up on the plate or striding toward the plate in an effort to hit pitches on the outside corner.
The fear of getting drilled keeps hitters at bay. That’s why pitchers hate the elbow pads hitters sometimes wear — they eliminate the fear. The balance of power is thrown off; hitters are then able to lean out and hit good low and away pitches — pitches that should be “out” pitches.
Luke Hochevar did not come inside in the first inning of this game. I couldn’t say for sure if this is why he gave up six hits and five runs before the inning was over, but knocking someone on their butt couldn’t have hurt. (By the way, Rex Hudler has taken a lot of grief since coming to town, but he spotted this right away.)
When it was all over, Ned Yost said Hochevar got away from his game plan. That’s the same thing Dave Eiland said after Luke blew up in the first inning of the home opener. Eiland said Luke didn’t establish inside in that game either. If Hochevar made the same mistake in both games that would be disappointing. Everybody makes mistakes, but the goal is to learn from them.
Jason Kendall has an interesting take on establishing inside: He thinks some batters aren’t bothered by a pitch up and in — they just lean back and settle right back in on the next pitch. Kendall thinks throwing at a hitter’s feet makes them more uncomfortable. It’s hard to lean out and drive the ball the other way when you’re thinking you might take a fastball off the ankle.
Someone mentioned Hochevar did not have his best velocity. I’ve never pitched, but I’ve heard when that happens you want to slow everything else down as well. That maintains the speed separation between pitches.
Yuniesky Betancourt did not dive to keep a ground ball on the infield. If there’s nobody on, letting the ball roll to the outfield might not hurt the cause, but if other runners are advancing, knocking the ball down can save a base. This wasn’t the first time Yuni neglected to get dirty on a ground ball.
E3, E8 and Jeff Francoeur missed a cutoff man. This might’ve been the first bad game the Royals played on the defensive side of the ball.
Frenchy threw out Jhonny Peralta trying to go first to third for the third time — more on that later.
Humberto Quintero got nailed on the jaw with a back swing. Everyone showed great concern — and then the Tigers stole a base on the very next pitch. Lots of managers like to put a play on right after some kind of distraction — an argument, an injury — anything that takes the opposition’s mind off the game. Look for it.
In the eighth inning Prince Fielder lined into a 6-4 double play. Alcides Escobar was playing him to pull, but he was still on the third base side of second. Last time Prince faced the shift, he beat it by going the other way through the hole at short. Ned Yost said he would not make the same mistake twice and he didn’t.
An email from a reader
(I got this email from a reader and thought the exchange was worth posting. He’s commenting on Jeff Francoeur getting thrown out while trying to go first to third in Sunday’s game)
“I always question “aggressive” running. You said Francoeur trying to take third on the Moustakas single was a bet that usually pays off. Again I would like to see the stats. What it did do for sure was make the second out of the inning, take some pressure of the pitcher and defense, kill the rally, end one of our best scoring opportunities, and change the entire momentum of the game. We would potentially have had two more hitters come to the plate with two runners on (barring a double play which can never be assumed in spite of Ned Yost always worrying so much about it). Since only one more hitter came up, made out, and ended the inning, we effectively cut the odds of getting another hit (not to mention another run) in half. Still sound like a good bet?
How many times do we have to use the phrase “but it took a perfect throw to get him,” when major-leaguers are expected to make those throws? By running, we gave Denard Span the opportunity to shut us down, and even though it was the fourth inning, end a rally that could have turned the game around. I know you agree with running aggressively and I appreciate all of your great in-depth analysis. I just like to provide the other point of view on base running. Thanks for your work and giving us the forum to debate all the intricate strategies baseball offers.”
I haven’t seen any stats regarding “aggressive” base running (as opposed to base stealing), so if someone’s got a link to a good article on the subject, feel free to let us know.
My initial reaction is it would be pretty hard to measure (if it was easy, we wouldn’t have arguments about it). You’d have to include every time someone bobbled a ball or rushed a throw because they were in a hurry. Every time a trail runner moved up because the throw came in high (which is what happens when you rush). Every time you scored or lost a run because you were aggressive and every time you scored or lost a run because you weren’t. That would be especially hard because the pitch selection of the hitter and pitcher change based on the situation. Jason Marquis would not have thrown the same pitches if Frenchy had been safe and Brayan Pena would have changed what he was trying to do at the plate. So bottom line — hard to know.
I can run through the baseball logic, though. Then you can decide for yourself if Frenchy should have tried for the extra base:
Sunday’s game, top of the fourth, score 6-2, one down, Eric Hosmer on third, Jeff Francoeur on first, Mike Moustakas at the plate. With nobody down the rule of thumb is don’t try for the extra base unless you’re sure. You might have a big inning going, don’t screw it up. With two down the rule of thumb is take chances to get to two places: second base (you’re one hit away from scoring instead of two) and home (if you stop at third you’ll need another hit). With one down you only take chances to get to third base (you can score without a hit).
So far the only factor we’ve discussed is the number of outs. Score, stage of the game, the pitcher, the hitter on deck, the hitter in the hole, possible pinch hitters, possible relievers, outfield arms, field conditions and probably a few other things need to be factored in. I doubt whether all that ran through Frenchy’s conscious mind, but when you get a guy to break down a play, it’s amazing how much stuff registered on their subconscious. The important thing to remember is all this had to be processed before the pitch was made. I’m guessing Jeff was over at first base thinking, “If I get a chance to go to third, I’m going to press it.”
OK, so Moose singles up the middle, Hosmer scores (the game is now 6-3) and Jeff is approaching second base with a decision to make. If he can get to third with one out, he can score without Brayan Pena (the on-deck hitter) getting a hit, assuming Pena doesn’t hit into a double play (and lately there have been a lot of double plays.). If Jeff stops at second, either Pena or Alcides Escobar needs to get a hit.
Now comes the stuff I don’t know: Denard Span’s throwing reputation (all outfield arms are rated so the base runners have an idea of who to run on) and the Pena/Escobar/Marquis matchup numbers. Frenchy probably liked his turn at second base or he wouldn’t have advanced, plus he saw Span moving away from third base to field the ball (difficult to get momentum on the throw). Generally, it’s hard to throw runners out—there’s a reason ESPN puts those plays on TV. A lot has to go right to nail a base runner: fielding the ball cleanly, a good exchange glove-to-hand, a good throw, a good bounce, a good catch and tag. With all those elements, the odds usually favor a bad throw.
(Of course, just to make my line of logic look bad, Frenchy threw out Jhonny Peralta for the third time in Tuesday’s game—on the other hand, Frenchy airmailed another throw when he tried to do the same thing with another runner and completely missed the cutoff man.) So the choices were: bet on a bad throw and a ball in play that would score a run from third—or bet on one of two batters getting a hit that would score a run from second.
Aggressive base running looks horrible when people make outs—when they’re safe it looks like smart baseball. But if you don’t like risking runners the alternative is “station-to-station” baseball: don’t advance unless you’re sure to make it. Station-to-station baseball puts a lot of pressure on the hitters—with Billy Butler on first—by my count he only went first to third two times in 2011—you may need three more hits to score a run.
I’ve managed both kinds of teams and it was incredibly frustrating to get three hits in an inning and still not score. There’s obviously a price to pay for aggressive running, but I thought the risk was worth the reward. But that’s just me, others feel differently.
I know the Royals discussed whether this approach was going to pay off before adopting the aggressive base running approach, so it wasn’t done without putting some thought into it.