Games » Cleveland IndiansMay12
One of the reasons the Royals are getting hits, but not scoring runs, is their recent (last decade or so) lack of success at “situational hitting.” It’s a phrase that gets used a lot, but what does “situational hitting” mean?
Here’s a short, generalized and sometimes possibly inaccurate, answer. (We’re going to leave sacrifice bunts out of this for now … even though DeJesus and Maier got a couple down last night … this explanation is complicated enough without them.)
With a runner on second and nobody down, the pitcher wants the hitter to ground out to third or short, freezing the runner at second because he shouldn’t run toward a guy holding the baseball (despite what some Royals base runners think).
The pitcher will also settle for a strikeout or pop up: both freeze the runner at second.
The hitter wants to put the ball in play on the right side of the field. A hit would be nice, but even a routine ground ball to second allows the runner to advance to third, which allows him to score without a hit, since there would only be one down.
OK, now everybody knows what everybody wants, so what happens next? The pitcher will throw a right-handed batter inside and probably down. This will make him pull the ball and probably hit the top half, which produces the grounder to third or short the pitcher is looking for.
If a left-hander is at the plate, the pitcher will throw hard stuff down and away in order to get the same kind of ball in play.
To make this even more complicated, there are all kinds of exceptions to these generalities. The third base coach even has a sign to tell the hitter, don’t worry about moving him over, drive him in. (They use that when they don’t think much of the on-deck hitter’s chances of getting the job done.)
How about runner on third, less than 2 down?
If the infield is back, the hitter wants a grounder up the middle or a ball up in the zone he can hit to the outfield; the pitcher needs a pop-up (so he’ll go up in the zone, but too far up), strikeout or ground ball at somebody. If there’s also a runner on first, lots of pitchers will go for a double play ball and throw something down in the zone.
Now that you have the basics, here’s what the Royals did last night in a couple of these situations:
1st inning, runners at second and third, one down: the pitcher, Carmona, wants Butler to chase a pitch too far up. On the first pitch, he does, F5.
4th inning, runners at second and third, one down: the pitcher, Carmona, wants Betancourt to chase a pitch too far up. On the first pitch, he does, F5. (Bet you didn’t see THAT coming, did you?)
To be fair, Carmona’s ball had a lot of movement and I imagine both those pitches looked usable when they started their swings. Butler’s pitch was clocked at 95 and Betancourt’s at 93. That’s not a lot of time to make up your mind.
Success in situational hitting is often based on pitch selection. Will the hitter be patient enough to get the pitch he needs to do the job? Can the pitcher lure the hitter into going after a pitch he should lay off?
These individual confrontations within a game are fascinating to the observer who knows enough to look for them … and now you’re on that list.