Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz recently sat down with Baseball Prospectus to talk how he scouts hitters and how that plays into aligning his outfield defense. Kuntz discusses multiple other things as well, such as the 162-game grind for coaches, the enduring process of shrinking books of data down to the most important details, and other duties as a first-base coach in the Bigs. I found his advice for younger coaches particularly interesting.
I tell young coaches, when you’re looking at a guy for the first time—like, I looked at Ozuna for the very first time. There’s a couple of things you want to look for right off the bat if you’ve never seen the guy and want to know where to play this guy. Obviously my pitcher’s velo is going to play in. Ventura’s throwing 101, I’m going to play you oppo. I don’t give a shit if you’re dead-pull.
Once I get past a pitcher’s velo, now I look at the player. The first thing is if he’s got an elbow or shin guard on. The elbow means he’s close to the plate, and the shin is he likes to pull. If I don’t see either one of those, that means he’s off the plate and likes to go the other way. Why would you have a shin guard on if you stay inside the ball and go that way, and why would you have an elbow guard on if you’re not on the dish? Those are the first two things I look at. If I see those two things, he’s a pull guy.
The next thing I look at is, where is that third-base coach or first-base coach? If Big Papi gets up, where is Ruben Amaro, Jr.? If he’s back [on the dirt], this guy’s a pull guy. That isn’t going to lie. If he’s not comfortable here [in the coach’s box], he’s back there—probably because [the hitter] pulls.
You look at the guards and where that base coach is standing, and that gives you an idea.
I’ve always been amazed by how great of a defensive catcher Salvador Perez is considering he’s listed at 6-3, 240 pounds. The catcher position obviously requires a certain level of flexibility, which one would think could be difficult for man of Perez’s size. This article from Sports Illustrated takes an inside look on how the Royals train their catchers and offers actual training drills from their award-winning strength and conditioning coach, Ryan Stoneberg.
“Each of these players are individuals and that’s how I treat them,” says Stoneberg, who enters his 15th season with the 2015 World Series champion Royals. “They are different ages, play different volumes of innings, have different training backgrounds [and] injury histories….It’s important to recommend what they need moving forward, while recognizing their individual backgrounds. It would be very easy to have all of these players do the same things, but it would not be as beneficial to the player or the team.”
The Royals seemingly have a new home-grown ace in left-hander Danny Duffy. The 27-year-old began this season in the bullpen and is now a dark horse Cy Young candidate in the American League. Rustin Dodd of the KC Star chronicled how Duffy bounced back from one of the most ineffective seasons of his career. The process involved developing a new pitch, simplifying his delivery, and a trip to the bullpen which showed him just how dominant his stuff was.
His future as a starting pitcher uncertain, his career at a plateau, Duffy stood in the outfield grass, looking out toward Medlen, some 60 feet away. He gripped the baseball like a fastball, and he chucked it like a football, and even now, one year later, the moment still kind of blows him away.
“It literally was one of the nastiest breaking balls I’ve ever thrown,” Duffy says.
The baseball broke late and darted down, popping into the glove of Medlen. The pitch resembled a slider, and as Medlen caught the ball, he looked back toward Duffy.
“Dude,” Medlen said. “You got to use this in the game.”
I often preach experimentation when it comes to hitting, but the same could be said for pitching. Duffy appears to be proof of that. Even if it doesn’t produce anything, your original way of doing things will always be there to fall back on.