Think about the Royals bullpen this year. Without looking at any numbers, who would you say have been the three best relievers this season? Do you have three in mind? Great.
You probably immediately thought of Wade Davis, and then Kelvin Herrera. Easy enough. How about that third one? Luke Hochevar? Matt Strahm? Brian Flynn? Joakim Sori-okay, okay, I’ll stop. But who is it? Who can it be now?
What would you say if I told you I could make an argument that the third-best Royals reliever has been Peter Moylan? You probably want to call me crazy. I can see it in your eyes.
Evaluating relievers is always kind of tricky because of the small sample sizes, and certain people hold certain statistics in a higher regard than others. In other words, there are a few candidates against whom I wouldn’t strongly argue. Hochevar and Flynn have thrown more innings, and Strahm has been outstanding in his first few appearances, but I think I’ll give the edge to Moylan.
The Royals picked up Moylan this winter and invited him to Spring Training, but he didn’t break camp with the big-league squad, so he opted out of his contract. After re-signing with the organization on a minor-league deal, Moylan was impressive in Omaha, allowing one earned run in 12 appearances prior to being called up to Kansas City.
Moylan’s time with the Royals hasn’t been spectacular every time out, entering Tuesday’s game with an unremarkable 3.72 ERA in 29 innings. As unsightly as that number is, basically all of the damage has come in two appearances. He allowed three runs in an inning against the Tigers in June, and four runs in one-third of an inning against the Indians shortly after the All-Star Break.
Obviously relievers’ numbers can easily be skewed by just a few bad outings, so I’m not saying you can simply ignore those two appearances. But at the same time, Moylan has allowed five runs in the other 27.2 innings. What’s even more impressive, and what puts Moylan among the best in this bullpen, is how well he’s pitched in high-leverage situations.
According to Baseball Reference, Moylan has faced 16 batters in plate appearances they identify as “high leverage.” Those batters have collected two hits in 16 at-bats, with five strikeouts. Granted, that’s not a big sample, but those plate appearances happened, and largely because of that, Moylan has been a big help to the Royals’ ability to win close games.
Among relievers, only Davis and Herrera have a higher Win Probability Added than Moylan’s 0.7. I’d ask you to raise your hand if you expected Moylan to be one of the most effective relievers in the pen this season, but we all know that would be silly.
He’s come through in the clutch, and kept games close, holding opponents to a .499 OPS when the score is within one run, and .506 when the score is within two runs. He’s allowed a .541 OPS in medium-leverage situations. Basically the only times Moylan has struggled this season have been when the game was no longer in doubt, as he’s allowed an .837 OPS in low-leverage situations.
Some of Moylan’s effectiveness comes from proper usage by Ned Yost, as the vast majority of his high-leverage appearances have come against right-handed batters, who have a .536 OPS against the sidearming Aussie. As evidence of that dominance, here’s Moylan making a right-handed batter look very, very foolish with his slider:
As you can see, that was a tie game, in the seventh inning. The Royals’ bullpen did eventually lose the game, but Moylan did the job he was called to do. When he comes into close games, Moylan can unleash his slider against those right-handed hitters, and they have yet to do anything with it. They’re hitting .133 when a plate appearance ends with a slider. The combination of his arm angle and plenty of glove-side movement makes life miserable for same-side batters.
The pitch is much less effective against lefties, but that hasn’t really hurt the Royals all that much, in the grand scheme of things. Moylan has faced 39 lefties this season, and they’ve crushed him to the tune of a 1.055 OPS. But because Yost limits his exposure in tight situations, the negative impact on the team isn’t significant.
Coming into the season, many people were wondering if the Royals could find yet another useful relief arm on a minor league deal. Thanks to a funky delivery, a wipeout slider, and intelligent managing, Moylan has found himself as the man at work in that very role.