Games » Texas RangersMay14
How aggressive base running won the game
The Kansas City Star
The Royals have taken a lot of criticism for their aggressive base running. Monday night, aggressive base running won a ball game.
The Royals adopted the current approach on the base paths because they felt their former approach — going station to station — was killing them. They felt a timid approach was costing them runs. They didn’t think they had enough power to make standing around waiting for home runs a viable game plan. They felt that aggressive base running would buy them more fastballs for the hitter at the plate, cause the pitcher to be up in the zone when he rushed his delivery, force the infield to reposition themselves in ways advantageous to the offense and create errors when fielders felt like they had to hurry their throws.
Monday’s game demonstrated why the Royals adopted this approach. They won 3-1, and two of the runs came directly from aggression on the base paths.
In the 5th inning, down 1-0 with two outs, Jeff Francoeur on third base and Chris Getz on first, Getz stole second base. The Royals are not basing their base-stealing decisions on history or run expectancy matrixes; they’re basing them on math. Getz can steal second base if the pitcher takes longer than 1.3 seconds to deliver the ball home. Rangers pitcher Scott Feldman took 1.6 seconds on the pitch while Getz was committing thievery. Mathematically, Getz should’ve been safe easily — and he was. Tying and winning run in scoring position, Alcides Escobar hit a single, both runs scored and the Royals went out in front to stay.
The other piece of daring base running was Jeff Francoeur going first to third in the 7th inning. Mike Moustakas had singled to center field and Francoeur never hesitated. He hit second and kept on going. I’m guessing he made the decision because the ball wasn’t hit that sharply (which means it takes longer to reach the fielder) and Craig Gentry is right-handed. Gentry was moving away from third and was going to have to make a pivot to throw the ball — that meant no momentum on the throw. Francoeur made it easily and scored on a double play ball hit by Brayan Pena.
Doug Sisson is in charge of the base running. Doug was brought in specifically to make this change in philosophy. We have talked about the philosophy and the philosophy’s critics. Doug — and the Royals — are convinced aggresive base running will play off in the long run and suggested the people who hate the approach are in for a frustrating season.
“We’re not changing — it’s who we are,” he said.
Top of the 1st: Jarrod Dyson steals second and slides in head first. Elvis Andrus applies the tag on Dyson’s left elbow and Dyson comes off the bag. No way to tell from TV, but it’s an old infielder’s trick to apply a tag — with a little push — and as Frank White used to say, “Help the runner get where he’s going.” The umpire either doesn’t see it or buy it and Dyson’s called safe.
Later in the same inning, Dyson’s on third with Billy Butler at the plate and one down. This is where teams often use the “contact play.” The runner heads for home on contact and hopes the ball isn’t hit back at the pitcher. Unfortunately, the ball is hit back at the pitcher and Dyson’s caught halfway between home and third.
If the contact play was on, Dyson did not make a base running mistake, but Billy Butler probably did. The trapped runner is supposed to stay in a rundown until the batter has time to get to second base. If that happens, at least the team has a runner in scoring position with two down. Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler said first base coach Doug Sisson was waving Billy on, but he shut it down at first base.
Bottom of the 2nd: Jeff Francoeur is thrown out trying to steal second (if you hate this approach, here’s your chance to criticize) and Rex Hudler describes it as a hit and run (Brayan Pena swung and missed). After the game, Ned Yost described it as a steal and said Frenchy got caught when pitcher Scott Feldman guessed right and dropped his delivery time from 1.5 or 1.6 to 1.3. I went back and watched Francoeur during the play and he never looked in, which indicates a straight steal. Runners look in to home plate during hit and runs to locate the ball.
Bottom of the 3rd: Alex Gordon does a great job of “rounding” the ball (taking a route that allows the fielder to approach the ball headed in the direction of his intended throw) and holds Josh Hamilton to a single. (It probably would’ve been a single anyway, but it’s nice to appreciate a job well done.)
Bottom of the 4th: Bruce Chen runs a “cutter” in on right-handers. A cutter is a fastball held off-center which gives the ball lateral movement. Chen’s cutter keeps boring in on a right-hander which forces them to get the bat head out early. That makes Chen’s off-speed stuff better.
But what happens when the cutter does not get far enough in? Nelson Cruz hits it out of the park — and by the way — MLB.com consistently misidentifies Chen’s cutter as a slider.
Top of the 5th: Two down, Jeff Francoeur on second base, Chris Getz at the plate. Getz hits a grounder to Adrian Beltre. The ball spins Beltre around, he gets nonchalant with the throw and makes an error. This goes back to a former point made here on the site: practicing correctly and doing everything the same way every time is important. Beltre tried to make a throw without much stride — an unusual throw — and cost his team two runs.
After Alcides Escobar drove in Francoeur and Getz, announcers Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler suggested it might be a good time for Esky to steal second. Two outs, Jarrod Dyson was at the plate and the thinking went this way: if Escobar gets thrown out, Dyson leads off the 6th inning. But by my stopwatch, left-handed reliever, Robbie Ross, was too quick to home plate.
Once again, the Royals aren’t stealing bases based on past history or what is considered “usual.” When the math says they can steal — and it makes sense to do so — they steal. When the math says they can’t make it, they don’t.
Bottom of the 7th: Two down, one on, Elvis Andrus at the plate. Andrus hits a slow roller to Mike Moustakas, Moose charges, fields the ball and throws it away. The ball sails to the infield side of first base, pulling Eric Hosmer into the runner. If you’ve seen our video on fielding slow rollers, you know that throw tends to sail to the arm side of the infielder because the fingers are not on top of the ball. So Mike needed to miss to the outfield side of first base, which would’ve given Hosmer some room to work.
Top of the 8th: Hosmer hits his third hard shot of the game, all of them at someone.
Bottom of the 8th: Yost uses Jose Mijares to get one batter, Josh Hamilton. We’ve seen managers try to use one pitcher to slide by one bad match-up because they liked the match-ups in front or behind the bad one. We’ve also seen those managers get burned by those decisions.
Robin Ventura tried it on Sunday: he let left-handed Matt Thornton face right-handed pinch hitter Johnny Giavotella because he wanted Thornton to face the left-handed Dyson and Gordon sandwiched around Gio. The decision cost the White Sox the lead and possibly the game. Fans can never know exactly who is available in the pen on a given day or all the factors that go into selecting a match-up, but Sunday and Monday, Ned used lefties to get one out — which kinda seems like the point of having them.
Once Mijares got the left-handed Hamilton, Yost was free to bring in Aaron Crow. The Rangers weren’t going to pinch hit for Beltre or Nelson Cruz, so Ned could be assured of the match-ups he wanted.
Top of the 9th: Jeff Francoeur hits a fly ball to right that doesn’t carry. None of the fly balls to right or right center seem to find the jet stream that often sends balls over the fence in Arlington. I don’t know enough about the park to say for certain, but maybe it has to do with temperature.
Bottom of the 9th: Jonathan Broxton on to close. The Rangers are at the bottom of the order and I expect to see Ron Washington send pinch hitters to the plate. But he lets catcher Yorvit Torrealba hit for himself to lead off the inning. Washington, who’s managed a few more games than I have, is saving his other catcher, Mike Napoli.
Napoli is the Rangers best chance for a home run and it appears Washington doesn’t want to waste it when the Royals have a two-run lead. (Those insurance runs are a big deal.) So Washington seems to be waiting to get a base runner before sending Napoli to the plate.
Torrealba strikes out, pinch hitter Mitch Moreland grounds out to Hosmer and pinch hitter David Murphy comes to the plate. I don’t like to second-guess people who have more experience and information than I do — it’s a great way to say something dumb — but Murphy seems to get an awful lot of the same pitches (four-seam fastballs) in the same location (low and away). Murphy whacks the fourth one into left field.
Now Napoli comes to the plate — and strikes out looking to end the game.
Couple of things
Everyone seems to agree that the Royals have terrific, young position players. Without any doubt — at least in my opinion — the Royals are much better defensively. Now the bullpen is coming in for its share of praise. So the one area in which the Royals are falling short — and a lot of teams have the same problem — is the starting pitching. I guess you can still say Dayton Moore doesn’t know what he’s doing, but, to me, it seems like the team is headed in the right direction.
And it looks like it was a very good decision to pull Danny Duffy early on Sunday. Danny was insisting he could pitch through it and Ned pulled the plug.