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Judging the Royals | Spring numbers

How important are spring training stats? Well remember three things: Small sample size, uneven competition and dry air. That doesn’t mean the stats can be ignored entirely, but Lorenzo Cain is probably not going to hit .486 in 2012, and Bruce Chen is probably not going to wind up with a 15.00 ERA.

If a player’s spot on the team isn’t assured, spring training stats can certainly make a difference when the team makes a decision. But long-time veterans who have established track records are less susceptible to that kind of judgment.

The Star’s Royals beat writer, Bob Dutton, Fox Sports KC’s Joel Goldberg and I were talking about this Friday morning. Joel pointed out that April is the worst time of year for this kind of rush to judgment: There are no other stats to ponder, and people start forming opinions on one month’s worth of information. He also pointed out that people usually don’t do the same with the stats from July or any other month.

Bob remarked that Lorenzo Cain might hit .486 — for a month. But that will get lost among all the other stats generated during 162 games.

So keep in mind that: 1.) Players are generating less than a month’s worth of stats here in spring training 2.) They’re sometimes generating those stats against minor-leaguers and 3.) Atmospheric conditions are flattening out curves and making batted balls soar. Spring training stats matter, but not as much as you might think.

Coaching tips I know some people who read this web site coach youth teams, and there’s a lot that can be learned from professional workouts. Today, the baserunning drill was “dirtballs.” If there’s no play on, the runner’s sole responsibility is to watch for balls in the dirt. The Royals track the ball’s trajectory and want to break before the ball hits the ground.

Chino Cadahia was just in front of the mound, throwing to home plate. He’d either bounce the ball or throw it all the way to the catcher. The baserunners had to read the throws and break for the next base on the bounced pitches or take a crossover step to get back to the base on pitches that didn’t hit the ground.

Here’s the interesting part: The Royals had two runners at first (one lined up in the normal position, another about 10 feet behind him) and two more runners at second (same alignment). So with every throw, four runners got work and so did a catcher (blocking pitches). The Royals use this alignment on all the baserunning drills that involve jumps and get twice as much work done in the same amount of time.

Baserunning is always done at the beginning of practice. It’s a good way to get loose, and it sends the message that this stuff is important. Put it at the end of practice, and players are tired and may interpret the running as punishment.

Taking no for an answer Interested fans can watch the work being done by the major-leaguers on the two fields closest to the clubhouse, but they can only go as far as the dugouts. That means the major-leaguers are free to move back and forth between fields without interruption. The four minor-league fields allow fans much more access. That access means number-one pick Bubba Starling has to walk through the crowds to go to lunch. Starling doesn’t want to say no to anyone, and that can be a problem; he’s being stopped so much that he’s often having a 10-minute lunch break. Most players really do want to accommodate fan requests, but if a player says no, remember, there may be a very good reason.

The new catcher Cadahia talked about the steep learning curve new catcher Humberto Quintero is on right now. Quintero’s got to learn a new staff and a new league as fast as he can. After Friday’s game against the Dodgers, I asked former Royals catcher Matt Treanor what Quintero had to do to make that happen.

Treanor faced the same situation last season when he got picked up right before opening day. Matt said Humberto needed to catch as many pitchers in as many games as possible. Video helps and so do side sessions, but you really don’t know what a pitcher has or likes to do until you catch him in a game.

Treanor said Quintero looked comfortable during Friday’s game and could only remember one mound visit. That means he was on the same page with the pitcher. Visits to the mound and shakeoffs from pitchers mean the two are having a hard time getting on the same page.

Afterward, Luke Hochevar said he felt very comfortable throwing to Quintero and pointed out that they were facing a National League team that Quintero had faced before.

Hoch I’ve learned that if you ask three guys the same question, you might get three slightly different answers. So I asked Hochevar about slide steps and holding runners. He said he now has three moves out of the set: Lift the knee all the way (1.7 seconds to home plate), a quick step (1.3 seconds) and a slide step (1.1 seconds).

It’s not called from the side, and he says he does it by feel (much like Bruce Chen and his arm angles). It feels like this guy wants to run = slide step (1.1 seconds). This guy isn’t going anywhere = lift the knee all the way (1.7 seconds).

Me: “If Billy’s on first?”

Hoch: “He gets a 1.7 every time.”

Luke said the key is repetition so you can do it without thinking. And once you’re delivering the ball, 100 percent of your focus needs to be on the pitch. Don’t try to throw it through the backstop, don’t try to snap off a really nasty slider — do what you do. The same thing Jeff Francoeur said in yesterday’s post.

Luke must be doing something right; the home plate umpire walked over and told Ned Yost Hochevar looked ready for opening day.

Today’s team fundamental First and third defenses: With a runner on first and third, what will the Royals do with the ball if the runner on first takes off for second? My deal here is the Royals tell me stuff, but I don’t write anything that could help the opposition. This probably falls under that policy, so you’ll just have to wait until it happens in a game to find out what the Royals have planned.

What I like about you George Brett walked by and said, “You know what I like about you?” (I started laughing because it sounded like there was only one thing — which might be true). “You’re here to learn something every day.” Brett said he’s been doing the same thing. He’s got a son who pitches and one who catches, and he’s been listening to Dave Eiland’s side sessions and Cadahia’s work with catchers. If Brett hears a tip that can help his sons, he’s all ears.

Clearly, there’s always more to learn. If a guy in the Hall of Fame feels that way, how can the rest of us feel any different?

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