A while back Greg Holland was on the Royals pre-game show and had some interesting things to say: he told former Royals closer, Jeff Montgomery, that he threw three pitches—fastball, splitter and slider. The fastball has hit 100 miles an hour on the radar gun and some people think it has a slight rise to its trajectory. The slider breaks right to left (from Holland’s point of view), the splitter breaks left to right. Once he’s ahead in the count, Greg tends to throw sliders to righties and splitters to lefties, but he also said there are games where he’ll mix that up.
Greg said the use of the splitter and slider varies day-to-day. If one pitch feels better in warm-ups than the other, he’ll tend to use the one that felt better. Sunday afternoon, the slider must have felt better because, according to MLB.com, the splitter never made an appearance.
Holland came into the ninth inning to face the Minnesota Twins with a 9-7 lead. Trevor Plouffe, Oswaldo Arcia and Chris Parmelee were due up. On the fourth pitch of his at-bat—a 95-MPH fastball up in the zone—Plouffe homered. After that they must have had some kind of power outage in Minneapolis, because Greg Holland was lights out.
He struck out the next three batters on nine pitches. You see some pitchers get very timid after giving up a home run; they’ll nibble and walk the next guy. After giving up a home run to Plouffe, Holland appeared to get down to business. For Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier, Greg Holland was virtually unhittable. They made contact and fouled a few off, but none of them could get the ball in play.
That was Holland’s 17th save and drops his ERA to 2.10. Greg has also struck out 50 batters in 30 innings. I was watching the game with a buddy and we started talking about who would represent the Royals in the All-Star Game. A month ago I would have said Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez will certainly get some consideration, but right now, it’s hard to come up with a more deserving candidate than Greg Holland.
Lots of people had a part in this win, but without Greg Holland, all their hard work might have gone down the drain. Royals 9, Twins 8.
*David Lough was one of those people that put Holland in a position to get his 17th save. David was four for four with three doubles and a home run. He scored four, drove in three and after the game I believe he may have turned water into wine.
The Twins kept trying to get inside on Lough and it wasn’t working. The scouting report may tell you that you can get this hitter out inside, but scouting reports tell you about the past. If the hitter is showing you that he’s getting to that inside pitch tonight, you better change something up. Lough doubled on a slider, another slider, a fastball and homered on a cutter. (One of those doubles was a bit of a gift when Chris Parmelee ran an extremely bad route to the ball, but Lough earned another with good hustle on a bloop that dropped in.)
*Lough got lucky on one play: he got too close to the right field wall on a Chris Parmelee double and the carom got past him. The right field wall in Minnesota has padding part of the way up and the ball hit the top of that padding before shooting past Lough. Had the ball hit even a few inches further up the wall, it would have come off even harder and Lough would have had a longer run to retrieve the ball. One run scored on the play—a few inches higher and it might have been two.
*Johnny Giavotella also had a big day: three for four, a double, a run scored, two RBIs and a terrific defensive play to get Eduardo Escobar in the sixth inning—but he also had a couple hiccups. He watched his double for far too long before turning on the afterburners and he wasn’t in the right place when Mike Moustakas scored in the fourth.
Johnny was on deck when David Lough doubled. Billy Butler was on second and Moustakas was on first. Johnny came up to the plate, but was off to one side; the on-deck hitter is supposed to get behind the plate—in line with third base so the runners can see them—and signal the runners coming into the plate if they need to slide. The failure to get in the right spot happens more often when a team has the third base dugout; the on-deck hitter has further to run.
*The offense helped Ervin Santana out, but in the fifth inning, his defense let him down. Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas made errors, forcing Santana to face eight batters to get three outs. A bit surprising no one came to the mound to slow things down and give Santana a chance to catch his breath.
*After five innings the Twins had crawled back in the game and the score was 5-4. We’ve talked about the importance of the shutdown inning after your team scores (keep the pressure on by throwing a zero up on the board) and fortunately the Twin didn’t have one. Lough and Giavotella doubled and Alcides Escobar singled them in. The Royals went back up, 7-4.
*Lorenzo Cain lined the ball back to the mound in the sixth inning, pitcher Ryan Pressly got a glove on it, knocked the ball down, picked it up and threw it to first. Cain took one hard step out of the box, stopped, started again at a slow jog and never made it all the way down the line. Assuming there’s any kind of play at first, a lot of veteran ballplayers think it’s bad form to not hustle down the line and at least touch the bag.
*In the ninth inning, with Chris Parmelee at the plate, Salvador Perez called for a slider and then touched his glove on the ground. It’s not the first time I’ve written this, but when a catcher does that he’s asking the pitcher to bounce the pitch. If you see a catcher do that with a runner on third, he’s got a lot of confidence in his ability to block pitches.
(I write a lot more material than I ever use and this piece was written a while ago. Today, the timing seemed right…)
Last season Jeff Francoeur and I were lounging on the rolled up tarp down the right field line when I complimented him on getting a big base hit the night before. The hit was a single and went to right field: "See, dude? You can hit the ball the other way."
Frenchy got a maniacal grin and said: "Why would I want to hit a single over there (he gestured to right), when I can hit a bomb over there? (He pointed to left.)
I responded: "Why would you want to put your money in a bank when there are casinos available?"
By that point we were both laughing, but the story illustrates something important about Jeff Francoeur: the guy is incredibly enthusiastic and that comes out in many positive ways, but can also get him into trouble. On the plus side; he’s hilarious. The inter-action you see with fans is completely genuine. He’ll talk to anybody at any time and be so naturally upbeat that, if they meet him, even the fans who root against him—witness the guys in Oakland—change their minds and root for him. His belief that almost anything is possible makes Jeff attempt plays that seem impossible—plays that other outfielders wouldn’t even try—and he often makes those seemingly impossible plays. That’s the upside of being positive and enthusiastic.
The downside is attempting the seemingly impossible and finding out it really was impossible.
In an effort to make a great throw Jeff will sometimes overthrow the cutoff man. In an effort to hit a "bomb over there" he’ll start his swing early, get fooled and chase a bad pitch. The year he stole 22 bases Frenchy got so enthusiastic about base stealing, he started running in situations where he had no chance.
After a bad 2012 season and a poor start to this one, it’s easy to forget just how good Francoeur was in 2011: .285 batting average, 47 doubles, 20 home runs and 87 RBIs. That’s why the Royals signed him to a two-year deal; not because he "has a great smile." They saw a player who was still young, who had seemingly figured things out and was ready to be a steady and productive player. So what went wrong?
I’m only guessing, but I’m going to go with enthusiasm.
Jeff told me that after 2011 he thought he’d figured things out and took next year’s success for granted. He had the world on a string and thought he’d just show up and hit. By the end of 2012 Jeff was saying he thought Billy Butler was the only player on the Royals who could roll out of bed and hit—the rest of them had to grind it out. Frenchy admitted that when he was good he was looking to drive the ball to the right-center gap and "letting" himself turn on inside pitches. Hitters can look away and adjust in, but not the opposite. Looking inside, so he could hit a bomb, and then being pitched away or inside off the plate just got him into trouble. Jeff said he didn’t know why he had gotten away from the approach that had worked so well for him—look away and adjust in—but wanted to hit himself in the head for doing it. (I offered to do it for him, and I’m still thinking about it.)
Jeff also said that when you’re going bad, the game is so fast. You keep trying harder and that doesn’t work in baseball. Trying harder takes you to some place you don’t want to be. Right now Frenchy is scuffling and I suspect he’s trying harder. It’s pretty rare for an athlete to just not care; most of the time when we see a guy struggle, it’s not because he isn’t trying, it’s because he’s trying too hard.
We may be seeing Francoeur lose his position; the Royals are clearly considering options to having Jeff out there as an everyday player. It seems like there’s no reason he can’t be the guy he was in 2011; despite criticism that he’s lost a step, he was still a Gold Glove finalist in 2012. Basically that means the coaches and the managers in the American League still thought he was one of the three best right fielders in the league. He still prevents runs on a regular basis because of his arm; either he throws people out or they just don’t run on him. He’s not hurt, he’s not old, but it seems like he’s struggling with his natural tendency to try to do something big, something spectacular, instead of taking that single to right field.
(That’s as far as I got when I stopped writing. Well, Frenchy’s gone now and I know that pleases some fans to no end. When you’re hitting .208 it’s hard to complain that you’re getting a raw deal. But, like just about everyone that covered the guy, on a personal level, I’m sorry to see him go. You could always walk in the clubhouse, take a sharp right and find Jeff sitting in the corner dispensing quotes and laughs. Being a good guy doesn’t mean a team should keep you on its roster, but it does mean people will miss you when you leave. Wherever he winds up, I hope Frenchy starts taking that single to right—success could not happen to a nicer guy.)