Friday, April 29, 2011

2 reasons the Royals are struggling

Two reasons the Royals are getting beat
Wow, this looked familiar. OK, there are two things pitchers do that get them whacked (actually, there are probably quite a bit more than two, but that’s all we’ll talk about for now).

1.Pitching up

2.Pitching behind…and you’re seeing both on this road trip.

Pitching up is pretty simple: “Up” is about mid-thigh to just above the belt. The hitter sees (and has a great chance to hit) the side of the ball, and that means line drives. Any higher and the hitter still sees the side of the ball, but has a hard time hitting it.

The barrel of the bat is above the shoulder and descending, so it’s hard to stay on top (a term you’ll hear) of a ball up around the letters. When a pitcher needs a pop-up or strikeout with a runner on third and less than two down, he can go up (but he better not miss) to get the desired results. So the Royals pitchers are “up”, but not up so high they can’t be hit. When a pitcher is “down,” the hitter sees the top of the ball and is likely to hit the top half for a grounder. (Here’s looking at you, Fausto Carmona!)

And grounders tend to be outs or singles: One has to be right down the line for extra bases. That’s why teams like tall pitchers and obsess about pitching on a downward plane. (It’s also why, when baseball wanted to give offense a boost, it lowered the mound.)

As for pitching behind: Good pitchers throw strike one (the best pitch in baseball) and then work toward the corners. Each pitch getting harder to hit. Bad pitchers throw ball one and then have to work back toward the middle of the plate, each pitch getting easier to hit.

Jeff Francis got lit up in the first inning of Wednesday’s game. Here are the counts when the ball was put in play and the results:

1-2 out/2-0 single/1-0 single/3-1 single/1-2 single/3-1 double/1-0 out/1-1 single/2-1 single and 3-2 out. Notice any pattern? With the exception of the 1-2 single (A flare Travis Hafner muscled in) and the 1-1 single, all the hits came when Francis was behind and had to bite off a bit more of the plate.

But if you start grooving fastballs 0-0 to get ahead, won’t hitters jump on them? Well, they can try, but in one five-year study of Division I baseball, the batting average on the 0-0 count was .186.

The longer a hitter stands there, the more information he gets about velocity, movement and location. Forcing the hitter to swing the bat as early as possible is to the pitcher’s advantage, but a lot of them fall behind in the count while trying to make perfect pitches.

And force is the right word. Good pitchers don’t avoid contact, they don’t allow contact, they force contact. (That’s right out of the Mental ABCs of Pitching, a guide to the thought process of successful pitchers.)

Ned Yost thinks the Royals have gotten sloppy about pitching up: getting away with it at home in a big ballpark and paying for it on the road. Geez, I hope he’s right, they need to get away with* something* in this next home stand.

These next nine games will tell us a lot about this season.

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