Games » Toronto Blue JaysJul4
Mistakes without errors
The Kansas City Star
The Royals made no errors in this game, but several mistakes. In fact, three of the Blue Jays’ four runs came after the Royals made some fundamental misplay. None show up on a scorecard, but all were damaging.
First inning: The Blue Jays are playing Eric Hosmer to pull the ball. Their defensive shift has the shortstop playing up the middle, second base between first and second, and third all by himself on the left side of the infield. But Hosmer has 27 hits to left field, 28 to center and 17 to right, so he’s obviously capable of hitting the ball to the opposite field — why play a shift?
Because the Blue Jays are going to pitch Hosmer inside and force the ball into that shift. Hosmer strikes out for the first of three Ks on the night, so the shift does not come in to play.
Second inning: Moustakas doubles on quick pitch by Blue Jays starter Carlos Villanueva. This is a tactic Luke Hochevar sometimes uses: shortening the pitching delivery to upset the hitter’s timing. It’s against the rules to deliver a quick pitch before the batter is ready, but as long as the hitter is set in the box, it’s legal.
The tactic does not upset Mike’s timing and he doubles. The choice of pitch was an odd one: it’s a changeup. If the pitcher is trying to blow one by the hitter before he’s ready, why throw a slower pitch?
Moustakas, not known for his speed, then steals third with no throw.
Here’s a guess on why that happened: Jeff Francoeur was at the plate with a 1-2 count. The Royals — and every other major league team — pay attention to the percentage pitch in each count by each pitcher. If Villanueva has the habit of throwing his curveball once he gets two strikes (and that’s what he did in this situation) the Royals can gamble that the Blue Jays will not move their third baseman to cover the bag on an off-speed pitch that Jeff Francoeur is likely to pull down the line. Brett Lawrie never moved, Moustakas stole third, but Francoeur went on to strike out.
In the bottom of the third Rajai Davis hits a turf triple. As Doug Sisson warned us in his ballpark review, Toronto’s playing surface is fast. A ball that bounces past Yuniesky Betancourt (and give Yuni credit, he dove for this one) still has enough steam to split the outfielders. Luis Mendoza, who keeps the ball down for much of the game, leaves one up and Davis scores on a sacrifice fly. Blue Jays 1, Royals 0.
Later in the inning, Mendoza strikes out Jose Bautista with the bases loaded. Mendoza and catcher Salvador Perez use a common pitching pattern to get Bautista out. The Blue Jays three-hole hitter is on top of the plate, a pitch on the outside corner does not present a problem for Bautista. So to set up a pitch away, they come inside first, but too far inside for Bautista to keep the ball fair. On a 2-0 count they let him pull the ball foul. Bautista is getting the bat head out quickly and once he has two strikes, Mendoza and Perez go to the slider away. Bautista strikes out to end the threat.
Third inning: Salvador Perez opens the inning with a single and what is scored an E7, winding up on second base. In a 1-0 game Jarrod Dyson is definitely considered a “situational guy” with a runner on second and no outs. Situational guys are expected to use their at-bat to move the runner to third, better hitters may be expected to drive them in from second. Dyson does not get the job done, Perez is still on second, so Alex Gordon‘s fly ball to center field does not score Perez. Better situational hitting and the score would be tied but instead remains Blue Jays 1, Royals 0.
In the bottom of the inning a mental mistake costs the Royals two more runs. A ball is hit to the right side and Eric Hosmer breaks to his right. Hosmer sees that Betancourt will field the ball and returns to first. Mendoza, doing his job, breaks for first on a ball hit to his left, but fails to yield to Hosmer when Hosmer returns to the bag. Mendoza, who is not on the bag, reaches in front of Eric, catching the throw from Betancourt and turning what should be the first out of the inning into a single.
This single is followed by a double and runners are now on second and third. The next batter hits a sacrifice fly and the runner who should have been out to start the inning scores from third. The batter who hit the double moves up to third. Now another fly ball is hit and what should be the third out of the inning is only the second and another runs scores on another sacrifice fly. The Royals have missed out on a chance to score in the top of the inning and have given up two unnecessary runs in the bottom of the inning. Blue Jays 3, Royals 0.
Sixth inning: In one of the game’s few offensive highlights for the Royals, Alcides Escobar sees nine pitches and singles on the last one. Here are the pitches Esky saw:
1.) 79 MPH slider, Called Strike 2.) 74 MPH Curveball, Ball 3.) 90 MPH Fastball (Two-seam), Ball 4.) 80 MPH Changeup, Foul Bunt 5.) 77 MPH Curveball, Foul 6.) 91 MPH Fastball (Four-seam), Foul 7.) 83 MPH Slider, Foul 8.) 84 MPH Changeup, Ball 9.) 83 MPH Slider, In play, no out.
This is a very good at-bat. Escobar saw a wide variety of velocities, trajectories and locations yet was still focused enough to not swing at the eighth pitch, the changeup out of the zone. When hitters have these long at-bats they sometimes get in “swing mode” and will chase almost any pitch, no matter the location. Escobar didn’t and was rewarded with a single. This is the type of at-bat you might expect from a mature hitter — or one who is becoming a mature hitter.
Seventh inning: With Mike Moustakas on first with two outs, Rajai Davis makes it clear that the Blue Jays also make mental mistakes. Davis tries to catch a sinking line drive off Jeff Francoeur’s bat instead of playing it for a single. Frenchy winds up with a triple, Blue Jays 3, Royals 1.
In the bottom of the inning another Kansas City mistake gives the run right back. With Colby Rasmus on first base, Jose Bautista hits a deep fly ball to Alex Gordon. The Royals left fielder catches the ball casually, realizes Rasmus has tagged up and quickly throws the ball to second. Even flat-footed, Gordon makes the play close. Had Gordon gotten behind the catch and come forward while making a strong throw he might have gotten Rasmus or even convinced Rasmus to not make the attempt. But the mistake may not be Gordon’s: if he was watching the fly ball and relying on Jarrod Dyson to warn him of a runner advancing, the mistake may belong to the Royals’ center fielder.
Edwin Encarnacion follows with a fly ball to center, Rasmus again tags and advances. Adam Lind walks and Yunel Escobar singles, scoring Rasmus. If Rasmus was on second, he might have scored anyway, but being on third made it a lock. The Royals are not playing well enough to give away extra bases. Blue Jays 4, Royals 1.
Why the Royals outfielders throw out runners
Doug Sisson is in his second year as outfield coach and for the second year in a row the Royals are leading the major leagues in outfield assists — it’s not a coincidence.
As Bob Dutton pointed out in Wednesday’s Star, even though the names have changed slightly, the results have stayed the same. Last season, the Royals had 51 outfield assists, no other team had more than 39. This season the Royals have 20, no other club has more than 17. So what’s the magic formula for throwing out base runners?
First — and some of this has already been pointed out on this site — the Royals outfielders play shallow. The defense is designed to catch the ball when the pitcher makes a good pitch. Take away the flares and cheap shots, concede the balls hit well. Playing shallow means the outfielders are closer to the bases.
Second, the outfielders practice. A lot. The Royals outfielders throw to bases before the first game of every series. Doug’s reasoning goes this way: When one of his outfielders comes up to make a throw home, it hasn’t been two weeks since he last attempted that throw. He’s worked at the throw every three or four days and has a feel for it.
Third, the Royals have some rules regarding outfield throws that help them get the results they’re looking for. The outfielders can attempt to throw out the lead runner if the ball is hit hard and is moving the outfielder toward the lead base. If the ball is hit softly or is pulling the outfield away from the lead base, they throw the ball to second base and keep the double play in order. Royals outfielders know where they’re throwing the ball as soon as the it comes off the bat.
They also make all their throws on one hop. (So if you see someone airmail a throw it was a mistake.) The one-hop means the ball is low enough to be cut off and gives the player receiving the ball something he can work with: a big bounce that allows him to make the catch cleanly and then go for the tag. Balls that wind up at the defender’s feet or make him leap in the air might get there in time to beat the runner, but pull the defender out of position to make the tag.
Interestingly enough, Doug says his outfielders don’t try to hit the cutoff man, they try to hit the base. It’s the cutoff man’s job to put himself in a position to cut the ball if necessary.
So if the Royals are so good at throwing out runners, why do they keep running? Doug says there are times you challenge arms: scoring from second with two outs, trying to get to third with one, stretching a single into a double with two down and in these situations the risk of getting thrown out may be worth the reward. (Now there would be an interesting study: if the Royals have thrown out 20 runners, how many times did the opposition challenge an arm and make it?)
So next time Francoeur, Gordon or Dyson nails a runner at the plate, nudge the person next to you.
It’s hard enough to be a team leader when you’re playing, harder still when you’re on the bench. Somehow, Mitch Maier pulled it off. Despite the fact that, on most days, Mitch would not be playing, he would volunteer for extra work in the batting cage, go through the same preparation as the starters and stay prepared throughout the games by loosening up every couple innings.
During spring training Mike Moustakas told me when he saw the work Mitch put in when Mitch knew he wasn’t playing, it inspired Mike to take advantage of the fact that he knew he was playing. How could a starter do less work than a bench player?
Over time I’ve come to believe there’s one kind of leadership, leadership by example. Everything else is someone trying to convince you to do something that can’t, or won’t, do themselves. Mitch Maier led by example.