Games » Pittsburgh PiratesJun8
National League rules
The Kansas City Star
Let’s count the ways the Royals were at a disadvantage while playing an interleague game in Pittsburgh: 1. Eric Hosmer was in right field. 2. Billy Butler was at first base. 3. Luke Hochevar was hitting. Each had a moment that showed how an American League team can be hampered when playing by National League rules.
Let’s take a closer look…
First inning: Neil Walker singled and right fielder Eric Hosmer took a good route to cut off the ball. By running to a spot deeper than necessary, then turning and fielding the ball while coming back toward the infield, a good outfielder can take away extra bases. Take a lazy route, go directly to the ball and field it going sideways (a lousy angle for throwing), and a bad outfielder can give away extra bases.
Second inning: I mentioned the good fielding play by Hosmer in the first inning, because in the second inning he made a bad one. Rod Barajas hit a sinking line drive Eric’s way (one of the more difficult plays in the outfield) and Hosmer had to choose between trying to make the catch or letting the ball drop and keeping it in front of him for a single. Hos split the difference, got too close to the ball and it bounced past him for an E9.
Barajas then scored on a single by the number eight hitter, Clint Barmes. Several interesting things happened on this play: With nobody down the third base coach generally does not send a runner home unless he’s sure he’ll be safe. After all, they’ve got three more outs to get a runner home from third. Jeff Francoeur’s throw actually beat the runner — but put catcher Humberto Quintero in a bad position to make the tag.
So why did the third base coach take such a risk? National League rules. The pitcher was on deck so the Pirates played the situation more aggressively than if the game had been played with a legitimate hitter up next. It might have been too aggressive, but the play worked out for the Pirates.
Back to Franceour’s throw: It was up the line on the third base side and that had two consequences. First, it pulled Quintero away from the plate, which is why he missed the tag. Second, it missed the cutoff man in the middle of the infield. Barmes saw this and advanced to second base. That allowed the Pirates to use their pitcher to bunt Barmes to third instead of second and that meant Barmes scored easily on Neil Walker’s single to right field.
Yuniesky Betancourt deflected the ball Walker hit and Hosmer was charging hard, so if Barmes had still been on second base, there would have been another play at the plate.
Next, Walker stole second base and did it rather easily. In the sixth inning, Jose Tabata tried to steal second base and was thrown out by a big margin. So what was the difference? (Other than Neil Walker might be faster than Jose Tabata and Tabata was probably going on a hit and run not a straight steal.)
Luke Hochevar’s left foot. When Walker stole second, Luke lifted his front foot all the way in his stretch delivery. That makes the knee go higher and is a more natural delivery — but it also takes more time. In the sixth inning, Luke barely lifted his foot — a slide step — while delivering the ball home. The first delivery takes Luke over 1.7 seconds, the second one can get him down to about 1.2. Humberto Quintero made good use of an extra 0.5 seconds.
Third inning: Luke Hochevar started the inning by trying to bunt for a hit — maybe. When the stated goal of the team is making sure none of its pitchers gets hurt at the plate or running the bases, the bunt might have been a painless way to get an at-bat over with — not an ideal situation for an offense that’s already struggling.
In the bottom of the inning, the Royals messed up a rundown. Luke Hochevar pulled the first-and-third pickoff move that never works — and it worked. Luke picked Jose Tabata off first base. But then things went horribly wrong.
Luke looked the runner on third, Pedro Alvarez, back and then ran at Tabata, who was caught between first and second. According to Ned Yost in the postgame interview, Luke needed to get the ball to shortstop Alcides Escobar. Escobar could then run the batter back to first while keeping an eye on the runner on third. Instead, Luke ran the runner back himself and then threw the ball to Billy Butler. If Billy had been able to make the tag right away, the runner on third would have to stay put, but Tabata simply ran away from Butler. Billy couldn’t catch him, glanced into the plate once and then threw the ball to Yuniesky Betancourt. Making the play nearer second base than first made for a longer throw home and Alvarez scored easily.
Fourth inning: With two outs, the number eight hitter, Humberto Quintero, singled. This is a semi-big deal. It means the pitcher did not lead off the fifth. Number eight hitters in the National League can have a tough gig. They’re generally hitting eighth because the seven other guys are better. But with two outs, a runner in scoring position and a base open, they’re not going to get anything to hit. Why let a legitimate hitter beat you when the pitcher’s on deck?
But the eight-hole hitter is expected to expand his zone in that situation: he might be a better hitter on a lousy pitch than the pitcher is on a good one. In this case, having the pitcher behind him probably helped Humberto: with nobody on and two outs he was going to get a pitch to hit. Nobody wants to walk the eight-hole hitter and bring the pitcher to the plate to make the last out. They’d like to save that easy out — if they can — to lead off the next inning.
Sixth inning: Eric Hosmer hit an opposite field single. According to Ryan Lefebvre, 48.9% of Eric Hosmer’s hits have been to left field. The average major league hitter gets about 30% of his hits by going the other way. Pitchers are staying on the outside part of the plate to dampen Hosmer’s power. If he tries to pull those balls, Eric will rollover and hit a lot of 4-3s. If he waits and take those balls to left, Hosmer can drive up his average.
A conversation with Alex Gordon
The other day, Alex Gordon walked by and asked what I was reading. I get out to the dugout early most afternoons and often carry a book to kill time when no one’s around. The book Alex asked about was “Liar’s Poker” by Michael Lewis (same guy that wrote “Moneyball”). It’s the story of his days working as a bond salesman and it’ll convince you that burying your money in the backyard is a viable alternative to investing in stocks. The conversation turned to baseball (it always does) and here’s what Gordo had to say:
He likes being in the same spot in the lineup every day (I think we had this debate last winter) it gives him one less thing to think about and he prefers the leadoff spot over the 6-hole.
Gordon’s game preparation includes chewing three pieces of bubble gum of a certain type and he lays them out on the bench before he heads to the field. Last season, I was there when Greg Holland walked by, grabbed a piece and popped it in his mouth. Alex made Holland go back up to the clubhouse to replace the missing piece. (Some people didn’t think moving in the lineup was a big deal for players — Gordon doesn’t want to go out there with the wrong brand of chewing gum.)
I asked if the leadoff spot clarified things: get on base twice and he’s had a good night. Alex started laughing and asked if he should just go through the motions if he started the game with a hit and a walk.
Speaking of which, last Friday against the Twins he came to the plate with two down in the ninth inning, the Royals losing by four. Alex said those are really tough plate appearances: the team appears unlikely to win, there are two down and it’s been a long night already. It takes mental effort to not mail in that type of at-bat. Alex saw eight pitches and walked. He pointed out that it’s his career, giving away at-bats—whatever the situation — is not a good idea.
Gordon likes the outfield better than the infield. He feels like he can make all the plays in the outfield, but worried about making the plays when he was in the infield. Trying to avoid screwing up is not a great mind-set for a ball player.
Doug Sisson walked by and Alex said, “Hardest working man in baseball.” I can confirm that not too many people make it to the field before Doug or do more once they’re there.
I wanted to know if being in the leadoff spot had anything to do with things going better at the plate (by my scorebook 12 for 38 with seven walks and a HBP since moving back there on May 23). Alex said he didn’t know, maybe.
It was then time for Alex to get back to work. He went off to play catch with Mike Moustakas and I went back to reading about the stock market. I’m almost finished with the book and I think I’ll start putting money in my mattress.
Another point of view
Chris Getz, who is in competition with Yuniesky Betancourt for playing time, is a bit more understanding of Betancourt’s recent performance than some people who don’t play at all. Chris thinks part of what may be hampering Yuni’s fielding is his ankle. Getz thinks Yuni may still be favoring it…even though he doesn’t need to.
Once you’ve hurt something, it takes a while before you trust it again. I can confirm this: I blew out my left knee years ago and still take every opportunity to avoid putting any kind of strain on it. And the only kind of strain I’m putting on it nowadays is when I buy a 12-pack of beer and have to lift it out of the trunk of my car.
Getz told Betancourt he ought to test the ankle in batting practice, “Be obnoxious about it.” Make moves and cuts until Yuni begins to trust his ankle again. Obviously, Betancourt had some fielding issues before he hurt his ankle, but it’s interesting to hear a teammate’s take on what’s happening right now.
P.S. Getz may be facing the same problem: his rib injury has improved, but it’s not totally healed. Chris thinks it’s probably going to hurt every time he dives, but plans to play through it.