Advance scout work gives Royals leg up
KC targeted Toronto early en route to World Series return
KANSAS CITY -- It was late August, and huddled in Royals general manager Dayton Moore's suite at Kauffman Stadium were several front-office executives and scouts, including Gene Watson, director of pro scouting.
As the Royals were playing on the field, television monitors inside the suite displayed several other games from around the Major Leagues, including one of the surging Blue Jays thrashing the Rangers, 12-4.
Moore suddenly turned to Watson: "From this point on, I want scouts on Toronto. I want to know everything about them, every trend, every tiny little thing they do. They are the team we'll need to beat."
What was so unusual about Moore's edict was the timing: Normally teams headed for the postseason don't start advance scouting potential opponents until late September.
"Here we are and it's late August and it's go time already," Watson said. "Usually we start to advance about Sept. 23 or so, and that gives up 10 full games. But Dayton knew back in August that it was going to be the Blue Jays."
That decision to bump up the advance scouting of the Blue Jays may have been the difference in the Royals' capturing the American League Championship Series.
Watson and veteran scouts Tim Conroy and Paul Gibson teamed up to dissect the Blue Jays top to bottom in September and early October.
"We learned quite a bit," Watson said. "Very useful information."
Much has been made of the Blue Jays' reputation for stealing signs, and the issue was broached again by Royals right-hander Johnny Cueto after Game 3 in Toronto. In Game 6, Blue Jays first-base coach Tim Leiper -- who has been rumored to be a gifted sign stealer -- had an exchange with Royals starter Yordano Ventura as Ventura was exiting the game. Those close to the situation said the exchange was about stealing signs.
Watson wouldn't say whether he believes the Blue Jays' reputation for stealing signs is warranted. And he wouldn't specify how the Royals addressed it, if it were true. But he did say the Royals, through advance scouting, were able to "defuse the situation."
Just as interesting was some possible "pitch tipping," noted in an article at SI.com.
In that story, it was suggested that David Price, especially in Game 2, was tipping off his changeup by taking an extra deep breath before throwing it. No coincidence that in the five-run seventh against Price that won the game, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both got hits off changeups, and Alex Gordon laid off a 2-2 changeup over the plate but low. Gordon then drilled a double off a 3-2 fastball.
Also huge in that inning was Hosmer taking off for second base with runners at the corners and Kendrys Morales at the plate. Morales hit a potential double-play ball to short, but because Hosmer was running, the Blue Jays only got the out at first -- a big moment -- and a run scored.
Royals scouts had noticed that when Price picked up his right leg to throw home, he tended to point his toes down toward the plate. As the SI.com report noted, most pitchers pick up a foot with the toes pointed at first base, and thus Conroy and Gibson were convinced that Price's toes-down style made it easy to read, thus allowing the Royals to run on first movement. That, of course, is a big advantage for the runner.
That advanced scout's read on Price also allowed for Alex Rios to steal a base in Game 6.
"It just shows the value of good old-fashioned scouting," Watson said. "And the value of Dayton knowing so far ahead of time it would be Toronto we had to beat."