Games » Chicago White SoxSep8
Questions about the eighth
The Kansas City Star
When the Royals play at home and I see something I don’t quite understand, I can go the manager’s postgame news conference and ask questions, go into the clubhouse and talk to the players involved or even ask if one of the coaches will come out and talk to me about a decision he made.
When the Royals are on the road, all I can do is wonder.
So here’s what I’m wondering after this game: The Royals didn’t do much against Chicago’s starting pitcher, Chris Sale. Sale is now 16-6 with a 2.88 ERA, so I really don’t wonder why the Royals didn’t do more. Sale is good. When a starting pitcher is, in the current baseball vernacular, “shoving it,” the usual offensive plan is to get his pitch count up, get the bullpen involved and hope for better results.
By the eighth inning, the Royals had the bullpen involved and were facing Brett Myers. The score was 5-1 when Johnny Giavotella led off the inning with a double. Lorenzo Cain followed with a single, and runners were at first and third. Alcides Escobar stepped to the plate and hit the ball off the left-field wall. And we’re now approaching the decisions that have me wondering.
Giavotella scored from third, but Cain was thrown out at home trying to score from first. There were no outs, and the tying run was still on deck. I don’t know if the ball temporarily getting away from left fielder Dayan Viciedo played a role in Cain trying to score, or the fact that Viciedo one-hopped relay man Alexei Ramirez made a difference. Heck, I don’t even know whether third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez was waving Cain home. (I never saw a replay that showed Eddie.)
After Cain was thrown out at the plate, he appeared to have words with Giavotella. The on-deck hitter is supposed to let a runner who is trying to score know if there’s a throw, and if there is a throw, which side of the plate the runner should aim for. Cain slid straight in and might have had a better chance if he went wide to the foul side of home plate. Mitch Williams, the analyst for the TV broadcast, said Gio neglected to his job, but Alex Gordon was also out on deck, so I don’t know who was signaling what.
I also don’t know if the fact that the White Sox had left-hander Matt Thornton warming up to face Gordon had anything to do with Eddie sending Cain home, if he even did. The numbers I saw indicate Gordon hits Thronton pretty well, but it’s an extremely small sample size. In any case, Gordon and Billy Butler both struck out to end the Royals’ rally, and I’m left with the biggest question of all: Why doesn’t The Star send me on road trips?
The game was broadcast by Fox, and the announcers were Steve Physioc and Williams, a former major-league reliever. It’s always interesting to hear what the national announcers have to say about your local team. Williams — whose credibility might be hurt by that fact that he didn’t seem to know who was catching for the Royals — said what a lot people have said: The Royals are just a couple starting pitchers away from contending.
That’s great, but when you start going into the press box on a regular basis, it’s surprising how many people who have disconcertingly strong opinions don’t take the trouble to actually show up and watch the team. You begin to realize that the national announcers tend to find local reporters and ask what’s going on and then adopt those opinions as their own once they go on the air.
If it helps, Williams quoted White Sox manager Robin Ventura as saying the same thing: The Royals are a couple starting pitchers away. Ventura should have a good idea of what the Royals bring to the table.
OK, game notes, and this time I mean it
• Alex Gordon showed bunt in his first at-bat, and that brought Chicago’s third baseman, Ray Olmedo, in even with the bag. That would make hitting a ball past him a little easier.
Any time you’re at a game, check the third baseman’s positioning, and that will tell you something about the hitter. If the third baseman is in, that means the guy at the plate might bunt. If the hitter shoots a ball past third while he’s in, that tells you those earlier bunts paid off with a base hit later.
• As has already been written here, Bruce Chen usually needs to get the corners from the umpire to have a good day. If the man behind the plate forces Bruce into the middle of the zone, bad things can happen.
• Just to prove there is an exception to every rule, Dayan Viciedo hit an 86-mph fastball — fairly well located on the outer half and slightly down — over the fence in right field. This appeared to be a good pitch unless Viciedo was looking for it. When the hitter is sitting on a pitch and gets it, he can make a good pitch look bad.
• The opposite can also happen. A BP fastball can get popped up on the infield if the hitter was anticipating something else. So it’s not just where a pitch was thrown, but when.
• The game started at 3 p.m., and by the time Jeff Francouer took his first at-bat at 3:30, the shadows were becoming an issue. When a pitch goes from sunlight to shadow, the hitter’s eyes take a moment to adjust. Spin — or even the entire ball — can be momentarily lost.
• Look for this to be an issue in the playoffs. Lots of afternoon starts will bring the shadows into play. When this happens, pitchers are smart to throw breaking pitches or fastballs with movement — any pitch that doesn’t stay on the same plane.
• If you really want to know what’s going on, pay attention to relievers and when they pitch. Coming into this game, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland had thrown two days in a row. That usually — but not always — means a day off. Ned Yost might use them three days in a row if he has to, but he really has to feel it is necessary before he will do it.
• Ned has said that with most bullpens, managers have three guys they want to use and three guys they are trying to avoid. This year, he feels fortunate to have a pen full of guys he feels good about, but the four guys mentioned above seem to be the relievers he prefers to go to with a win on the horizon and the game on the line. That doesn’t mean he won’t “mix and match” with other guys at times.
• Chris Sale did not make any attempt to drill Billy Butler. (And if you don’t know why Sale might want to hit Butler, you need to read yesterday’s game notes.)
• With runners on first and second and a 3-2 count on Alexei Ramirez, Robin Ventura put the runners in motion. Putting a runner in motion on a 3-2 count is a common managerial tactic as long as the manager trusts the hitter to put a strike in play. Guess wrong, and it can turn into a strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play.
• A lot of managers will not put two runners in motion with no one out. It’s a great way to hit into a triple play. The White Sox missed doing that by one pitch. With the runners in motion on the first 3-2 pitch, Ramirez fouled the ball back. On the next pitch, the runners weren’t going, and Ramirez lined out to Mike Moustakas. Had Alexei lined out when the runners were going, the Royals would have had an easy triple play.
• The Royals made it exciting in the ninth. Moustakas hit what should have been the final out of the game to Jordan Danks in left field. Danks appeared to lose it in the lights, and Moose pulled into second base with a double. Brayan Pena singled, and Moose scored. Tony Abreu replaced Pena on the bases, took second on defensive indifference (when the other team isn’t going to move their defense out of position to defend a run they don’t care about) and scored on Giavotella’s single. Jarrod Dyson replaced Gio, stole second (and this time the defense did care — Dyson was the tying run), but Jarrod was stranded when Cain struck out to end the game.
What Seitzer said
We’ve been running a series of videos with Kevin Seitzer, the Royals’ hitting coach. In them, he answers many of the questions that fans and readers have posed this season. Just in case you missed them — or have a hard time sitting through a five-minute video — here’s a synopsis of what Seitzer said.
• Kevin believes in using the middle of the field and hitting gap to gap. Hitting the ball back through the middle helps the hitter wait longer and also helps with pitch recognition.
• This is one of the reasons the Royals have the fewest strikeouts in all of baseball.
• To pull the ball, the hitter has to start his swing earlier and can be fooled more easily.
• “Chase” sliders and curves are pitches that start down the middle, then break down and out of the zone.
• If a hitter was looking fastball and got a well-thrown “chase” slider, the results can look bad, even when the hitter did the right thing: gear up for a fastball in a fastball count.
• Waiting to see if the pitch is really a fastball can mean being late and not driving a very hittable pitch.
• If a hitter looks fastball 2-0, gets a well-thrown chase pitch and swings at something that bounces in front of the plate, so be it. The pitcher beat the hitter. But the hitter cannot afford to get beat on the fastball because he was worried about the chase pitch.
• To hit with power, hitters need to pick certain pitches and look to drive them. That means hitting them a bit more out in front. By starting early, hitters can get fooled, but it’s the price you pay for taking a shot at hitting one deep.
• If the count moves to two strikes, the hitter needs to move his contact zone back and look to hit the ball to the opposite field. This gives the hitter even more time to recognize pitches, but it will cut down on his chance of driving the ball.
• Hitters can’t cover the entire plate. They need to pick a zone and be selectively aggressive in that zone.
• When a hitter is being aggressive within a zone and gets a pitch that isn’t in that zone, he needs to shut his swing down.
• Young hitters have a hard time doing this: they’re aggressive and sometimes a bit out of control.
• A hitter will come back to the dugout after expanding his zone and explain his actions by saying he “saw it big.”
• If you’re unprepared for a pitch, seeing it well doesn’t change things. You’re still not ready to hit that pitch.
• Knowing the zones, the pitchers and themselves comes with time. Billy Butler was the same way as a young hitter and has learned when it’s time to be aggressive and when it’s time to shut it down.
• There is no substitute for experience.
• Good hand-eye coordination can be a curse if you’re prepared to hit a pitch in a zone, the pitch starts in that zone, then moves out of that zone and you chase the pitch. The ability to extend the bat, make some kind of contact and put the ball in play can be a negative before two strikes.
• Young hitters need to learn how to swing and miss intentionally so they don’t put a marginal pitch in play early in the at-bat. Better 0 and 1 than 0 for 1.
• Walks will come when young hitters learn not to chase borderline pitches.
• Pitch selection will improve once the young hitters have more experience with major-league pitchers. Many of the Royals’ hitters are seeing their opponents live for the first time.
• Young hitters have a hard time establishing the right intensity level for playing in the big leagues. Most of them try to do too much in order to compete.
• Once the hitters have more experience, they will walk more, have a better idea of when they can catch a pitch out in front and drive it and will also make better decisions on the base paths.
• When all those things come together, run production will go up.
• It’s a mistake to tell a young hitter he needs to walk more often or take more pitches. You will rob him of the aggressiveness he needs to hit his pitch when he gets it.
• Over time, he will become more selective without losing the aggressiveness. A hitter can’t be passive all the time or aggressive all the time.
• Learning to be selectively aggressive within a certain zone or with certain pitches will come with experience.
• There is no shortcut.
• No matter how much video a hitter watches, he still doesn’t know exactly what a pitcher has until he faces him.
• Billy Butler is the best hitter the Royals have and is still somewhat uncomfortable facing a pitcher for the first time. The younger players are doing it every night.
• Until they get enough reps against a pitcher, you will see hitters miss or lock up on pitches they should hit.
• Most of the Royals’ hitters have not developed the reputations necessary to make a pitcher nibble. Pitchers nibble when facing guys like Albert Pujols, fall behind and either end up walking them, if they continue to nibble, or throw a very hittable pitch in the fat part of the zone if they get aggressive late in the count.
• Major-league pitchers come right at young hitters — especially young hitters who play in a very big ballpark.
Seitzer said he sees the problems but promised himself he would never forget how hard the game is. It’s not as easy as simply telling someone to walk more or hit the ball farther. The Royals have very young hitters who will get better with experience. Until they do, Seitzer will try to keep things in perspective.