Games » Arizona DiamondbacksMay20
The margin of error
The Kansas City Star
Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley came into this game 4-1 with a 2.52 ERA. After this game Wade Miley was 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA. When a pitcher is throwing this well, there is no margin for error. Let’s look at one inning and you’ll see what I mean.
Greg Holland was on in relief and walked Gerardo Parra to start the eighth inning. Lead-off walks score 132% of the time (my math might be a bit fuzzy, but they do score a lot). The next batter, Ryan Roberts, laid down a sacrifice bunt, Parra went to second base.
With Justin Upton at the plate, Holland bounced a curve. Catcher Brayan Pena got in front of it, but the pitch bounced away and Parra went to third. I didn’t get to talk to Brayan after the game, but I wanted to ask him about the bounced pitch. It appeared that Brayan was probably more upright than he would’ve liked when the ball hit him. If the chest protector is above the ball, it will bounce straight back down and stay in front of the plate. If the catcher is too upright, the ball can kick away laterally.
With Parra on third, Justin Upton hit a sacrifice fly to Jeff Francoeur (who made another incredible throw on the fly to home plate that almost nailed Parra). The inning then ended with a fly ball to Alex Gordon. So no wild pitch — no run. A slightly different angle in the chest protector and the score is 1-0 instead of 2-0.
This is not criticism of Brayan Pena. The game is hard and it’s impossible to play it perfectly for all nine innings. I don’t know that there’s anything Brayan should’ve or could’ve or done differently. But realizing that the wrong angle in a chest protector can cost you a run in a close game, does illustrate how small the margin of error can be.
Nate Adcock pitched well, but was up in the zone early in the first inning. I know Adcock was up in the zone because, as I’ve mentioned before, when that happens Brayan Pena will extend a leg out to one side in order to allow him to set a lower target for the pitcher. The trick worked and Brayan got Nate back down in the zone.
Adcock’s added a small inward turn to his motion (which I’ve pointed out before) which helps him stay closed and keeps his sinker down, but can delay getting the ball to home plate. Pena didn’t have much of a chance on either stolen base the Diamondbacks recorded.
Hosmer drilled another line drive out in the ninth inning.
Billy Butler got hit by a pitch — when that happens, always check the radar gun. If it’s done with a fastball, it might be intentional. If it’s done with a breaking pitch — and this one was 80 MPH — it’s probably an accident.
Sunday morning I walked into the Royals dugout and there sat Chino Cadahia, Eddie Rodriguez and George Brett. They were watching Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop John McDonald practice the double play pivot and discussing the fine points on display.
The second baseman (I never caught his name) was feeding the ball to McDonald with a backhand flip — thumb pointed down, palm pointed to second base. Eddie Rodriguez said that was a faster feed than an underhand flip — thumb pointed sideways, palm to the sky. The underhand flip requires the second baseman to turn his chest toward second and that takes time. The backhand flip allows the second baseman to feed the ball to the pivot man without turning his body. (Apparently, Chris Getz was not allowed to attempt this play in Chicago, but has picked up the knack since coming here.)
Next, Eddie discussed McDonald’s glove work and how quickly he caught the ball and then released it. Eddie showed me how McDonald was getting his feet in throwing position before the ball ever arrived. McDonald does not have the arm strength of Alcides Escobar, so he’s got find another way to save time. A quick release is mandatory. Esky has a better arm, so he can take a little longer on the transfer.
We moved on to positioning and Eddie rolled out a bewildering array of factors that have to be taken into account. Pitcher, hitter, foot speed, surface, count and pitch are just the ones I remember. Let’s say Mike Moustakas is at third base and the hitter is someone right-handed who will pull a shot down the left-field line on a down-and-in slider from Bruce Chen.
Mike should shade toward the line because that’s where the hardest ball will be hit. If the pitch is further out over the plate (not down and in), the hitter will roll over that and hit a weak grounder to Mike’s left — then he’ll have more time to react.
But this all depends on everyone paying attention and remembering what certain hitters do with certain pitches. For instance, if the hitter tries to go the other way with two strikes, Mike might take a step or two in on a fastball inside — it’ll probably be jam shot that rolls weakly toward third.
And Eddie said Mike — and every other infielder — needs to be moving before contact. They should be able to recognize pitch and bat angle before the ball is ever hit. According to the Royals infield coach, good infielders never stop moving their feet. Many people think good defense is a matter of having good hands, but according to Eddie Rodriguez, it all starts with the feet.
For a baseball junkie, discussing infield play on a Sunday morning with three pros is just about as good as it gets. As I’ve said before, you go to your church, I’ll go to mine.
Nothing is simple, context is everything. Take running the bases in Yankee Stadium in the next series: they’ve got that short right-field porch which means the right fielder is on top of the infield. Even an average arm can make going first to third or second to home difficult.
Doug Sisson said Nick Swisher does a good job of hustling in on the ball, so we’ll probably see Royals base runners challenge him if he’s moving away from the infield. If he’s moving in, they might be going station-to-station.