Runs tough to come by all over baseball

Runs tough to come by all over baseball

KANSAS CITY -- If it seems to be tough to score runs these days, the increasing sophistication of defensive positioning is one reason in the view of Royals manager Ned Yost.

The Rays have a reputation for defensive shifts, but the Royals and other clubs are in on that trend as well.

"We know exactly where every player on their team has hit every ball for the last four years -- exactly where," Yost said. "You look at the percentages and try to put yourself in a high percentage place. But you still have to be able to make pitches to be able to defend it properly, so there are a lot of variables that go into it."

With everything on computers, all clubs have access to an array of detailed information. Things have come a long way since Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog sat in his office drawing hitters' "spray charts" by hand while he held court with reporters.

"Back in the older days, everybody just played straight-up, or if they knew a guy they'd move a step or two," Yost said. "But now you've got so many defined patterns that if you pitch a guy effectively, you can pretty much defend him to a much higher percentage in both the infield and the outfield, and that probably has a lot to do with [a general decline in offense]. You really notice all the shifts that teams put on now from all the information everybody's got."

Certainly Yost is aware of the difficulty of scoring; going into Tuesday night's game, his Royals were tied with Oakland for the fewest runs scored in the American League, 282, despite having the fourth-highest batting average of .262.

Sometimes when a Royals player pounds a hard grounder up the middle, Yost's instinct tells him that should be a hit. Then he looks and ... "Dadgummit,' the shortstop's a step from the bag and he's right there and, boom, he throws him out."

That kind of anticipation used to make a player look smart because he'd studied opponents over the years and remembered their tendencies and knew where to play.

"Now they don't have to be smart, they just go where the coach tells 'em to play," Yost said.

As he pointed out, however, the pitcher has to throw the right pitch so the batter hits the ball in the anticipated direction.

"You just try to play the percentages and hope that your pitcher makes the pitch and, more times than not, you'll be in the right spot," Yost said.