Games » Oakland AthleticsJun2
A Bad Day
The Kansas City Star
Six walks, three errors, a wild pitch, a passed ball, a blown call at home, the catcher getting ejected, the starting pitcher giving up six earned runs, the team going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and eight runners left on base. Ned Yost called this a bad day for the Royals and I can’t see any reason to disagree.
Ned said when you play 162 of these things, some of them are going to turn out this way—but if the Royals are going to use June to get back to .500, this was not a good way to start.
Before the game I asked Billy Butler about A’s starting pitcher, Brandon McCarthy. Billy said McCarthy mainly threw a cutter and sinker so the Royals DH would be dealing with pitches down and in and down and away. Billy said he wanted to avoid two strikes because McCarthy was 6‘6” (don’t know if that’s accurate—but he looked every inch of it). McCarthy’s height meant his curveball would drop straight down like it fell off a table.
In the third inning McCarthy struck Billy out on—you guessed it—a curveball.
In the 1st inning, with a runner on third and nobody out, the Royals played the infield back. That means the manager is trying to stay out of the big inning and feels he has time to make up a single run.
By the 3rd inning the Athletics were playing the infield in. That means the manager thinks the pitchers have settled in (wrong in this case) and a single run will be significant.
In the 4th inning, Yoenis Cespedes led off with a double, but Jarrod Dyson bobbled the ball and Cespedes went to third. A wild pitch then scored what looked like an important run—at the time. Kila Ka’aihue hit a pop fly down the left field line, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon converged and almost collided. Alex said he called for the ball because Mike was still coming (if the infielder is camped under the ball and the outfielder isn’t sure he’ll get there, the infielder should take it). Gordon said he called too late, Moustakas couldn’t stop, so Alex slid underneath him while Moose made one of the two outstanding defensive plays he’d turn in Saturday afternoon. (Once in a while, Moustakas will still launch a Sidewinder missile over to first base, but he’s really improved since last season.)
The line’s good enough to repeat: last year I asked Mike if he ever took Hosmer out to dinner for saving him errors on bad throws. Mike figured Hosmer owed him dinner because Eric could never win a Gold Glove if every throw was perfect.
The game got away in the 5th: Luke Hochevar gave up a single to Kurt Suzuki, Chad Pennington bunted him to second and a passed ball put Suzuki on third. Hochevar then walked Jemile Weeks. That set up a double play, but it also meant Hochevar had to worry about holding a runner. I don’t know whether Luke struggles more out a slide step than when he can take his time delivering the ball home, but he never got out of the inning. (On the other hand, he struck out Collin Cowgill from the stretch, so maybe it doesn’t have an effect.)
Before the game, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer were talking with me about hitting the ball to the opposite field. It robs most people of power, but it allows a longer look at the ball and forces better hitting mechanics (the front shoulder stays as closed as a bank on Memorial Day). Jarrod Dyson was sitting there listening and being spectacularly silent. Jarrod then went out and got three hits—to the opposite field. I don’t know if the talk had an effect, but I’m guessing it didn’t hurt.
Hosmer also had a hit the other way, lining a shot over the left fielder’s head. (I wonder if Kevin Seitzer needs an assistant.)
Unfortunately, Kevin is very familiar with my swing and would probably pay me good money not to talk to any of his hitters.
In the 7th inning Humberto Quintero was ejected by home plate umpire, Paul Schrieber. I don’t know what Humberto said (I’ll find out tomorrow), but I do know he said it with his head turned back toward Schrieber. This is generally considered unacceptable behavior by home plate umpires: a catcher is supposed to keep facing the pitcher when complaining, that way fans don’t know what’s going on. Turning back and facing the umpire lets the crowd know there’s a disagreement and umpires then tend to get very short-tempered.
In the 8th inning Yuniesky Betancourt played a ball off to the side (most people think you need to get your body behind the ball—although I’ve heard arguments on the other side) and clanked one off his glove into right field. The Royals would end up with three errors on the day, about 2 and 3/5s more than you can get away with in the major leagues.
You can count on it
When Clint Hurdle was hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies I asked him what approach he wanted his power hitters (and he had a few) to take. Clint said he didn’t want them trying to hit the ball out of the park on every pitch. Instead, he wanted them to look to drive the ball in certain counts.
That’s what Billy Butler is doing.
Billy’s hitting for more power and he says it’s because he’s looking to drive the ball in certain situations. If Butler gets the pitch he’s looking for, he’s letting it rip. This can also lead to some bad looking hacks. One of our very first videos (still available under “Lee TV”) features Kevin Seitzer, talking about hitters getting fooled in 2-0 counts.
Kevin said he wanted hitters looking to drive the ball in fastball counts and if the pitcher was skilled enough to fool the hitter with a slider that looked like a fastball most of the way to the plate and then moved off the plate, tip your cap—you got fooled by a good pitch.
The alternative to looking foolish was to protect against the slider in a fastball count, but then you might get the fastball you’ve been waiting for and take a weak hack. (Game’s kinda complicated, aint it?) Kevin would rather see the hitter load up and try to do some damage when he has the pitcher at a disadvantage.
So here they are, the counts in which you can expect to see Billy Butler take a shot at driving the ball: 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 (if he gets the green light) and 3-1. If Kevin is able to supply Billy with more specific information (like this pitcher throws a fastball every time he misses with an off-speed pitch) you might see the Royals DH come out of his shoes in a few other counts as well.
You can count on it, Part 2
OK, so I walk past Billy and ask if I have this right: is he loading up and trying to drive the ball in fastball counts. The answer is yes and no. Pitchers in the major leagues don’t always throw fastballs in fastball counts. The ones that do, might not stay in the major leagues very long—or they’ve got a dynamite fastball.
So I paid attention to Bartolo Colon Friday night to see what he threw in fastball counts. The first thing that jumped out at me is Colon avoided fastball counts. Pitching ahead is a good part of why he gave up two runs in the first and shut it down after that.
But when Colon was in these fastball counts—2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1—he was not afraid to throw his fastball. According to my scorebook he was in one of those counts only eight times (I could be wrong, writing late at night after having a couple of post-game beers will do that to you). But in those eight instances he threw one slider, the rest were fastballs.
Because Bartolo had a really good fastball going and he was locating with consistency down and away. Jason Kendall once told me pitchers who are obsessed with multiple sign sequences and fooling hitters don’t trust their stuff. Guys who do trust their stuff (or their defense) are much more likely to say, “Here it is, try to hit it.”
So—pay attention to hose fastball counts and what the pitcher does when he’s in one. Check the scoreboard: if the pitch was over 90 miles an hour, it was probably a fastball, under, something off-speed. If the pitcher has a fastball anda slider over 90, the hitters are in trouble.