Building a better bullpen

It seems especially futile to project any kind of Opening Day bullpen, even at this point. Not so much because it doesn’t matter. More because it seems like this is the Royals version of a revolving door.

The group they break camp with for the opener on Thursday will most assuredly look different by the All-Star break. Hell, it’s likely there will be plenty of turnover before the end of April.

Still, the first pitch of the season has yet to be uncorked, and the lineup looks to be fairly settled, so what else are we going to do? (Spring training is too damn long.)

Let’s start with the known relief quantities. If you want to get a picture of how different 2018 will be from the last several seasons, look here. This is a limited subset of the bullpen with only Kelvin Herrera and Brandon Maurer as the relievers currently to be trusted.

Justin Grimm lost his arbitration case with the Cubs (he asked for $2.475 million and was awarded the club counter at $2.2 million) and was then released in mid-March. He gets roughly $530,000 of that, plus the additional $1.25 million he agreed to with the Royals. Grimm has seen a steady decline in his performance since his peak in 2015 when he posted a 1.99 ERA in just under 50 innings.

Standard Pitching
2015 26 CHC NL 1.99 62 11 3 49.2 31 18 11 4 26 67 204 192 3.11 1.148 5.6 0.7 4.7 12.1 2.58
2016 27 CHC NL 4.10 68 11 0 52.2 47 24 24 5 23 65 225 102 3.28 1.329 8.0 0.9 3.9 11.1 2.83
2017 28 CHC NL 5.53 50 13 1 55.1 47 34 34 12 27 59 232 79 5.36 1.337 7.6 2.0 4.4 9.6 2.19
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2018.

Last summer it was an increase in home run and walk rate, combined with a decrease in strikeout rate that contributed to his struggles. No pitcher can overcome those self-inflicted obstacles. The question is whether he can curb the trends. His HR/FB rate was a ridiculous 22%, so let’s just feel good about the assumption he can reduce his HR/9.

For those of you still jonesing for the Dayton Moore to Atlanta connection, we present Blaine Boyer. Boyer was selected in the third round of the 2000 draft by the Braves and made his major league debut all the way back in 2005, when Moore was director of player personnel development. Boyer is difficult for hitters to barrel, but still allows too many baserunners to be completely trusted.

He’s in camp as a non-roster invitee, so the Royals will have to dump someone from the 40-man if he’s going to stick.

Already on the 40-man roster are a pair of Rule 5 selections in Burch Smith and Brad Keller. This is the tricky part where we will veer into the statistical realm of Spring Training. Keller has thrown 10 innings and whiffed 14 while posting a 2.70 ERA. The caveat here is that his Baseball Reference OppQual score which measures the quality of opposing batters he faced is a weak 7.1. BR defines that as around Double-A quality. Read into that what you will.

Meanwhile, Smith has whiffed 16 in 12 innings of work. His ERA of 7.50 and 24 total baserunners allowed could be alarming if you are one to read heavily into exhibition baseball performance.

As Rule 5 picks, both Smith and Keller can’t be optioned directly to the minors, They first have to pass through waivers and then offered back to their original teams. (The Rays and Diamondbacks, respectively.) They also have to serve at least 90 days on the active roster, or we repeat this whole drill next season.

Brian Flynn is out of options and is the lone southpaw in consideration here, so it’s difficult to understand why he’s not considered a lock at this point. He’s also looked sharp this spring with a 1.98 ERA in 13.2 innings of work. He’s whiffed 10 and walked just one.

Apparently, Wily Peralta is still in the mix, although it’s difficult to understand why. He’s had a miserable spring to this point with a whopping 24 baserunners in just eight innings of work. I don’t give a damn about your sample size. When those are your numbers…woof. Peralta was signed to a $1.525 million contract for 2018, which means the Royals are on the hook for just over $380,000 if they cut him before Opening Day. He will reportedly stay in Arizona on Monday to throw a pair of innings in a minor league game.

That’s an eight man bullpen to open the year. While the Royals are saying they have only two “locks,” it really looks like they have six or seven, depending on where you stand with the two Rule 5 guys. The real question at this point is whether they want to gamble about $1.2 million on Peralta making the tradition to the pen.

There are still other options. The Royals are reportedly considering keeping Eric Skoglund with the club as a middle reliever. It’s difficult to understand the logic behind that move should it come to fruition, as he’s much more valuable as a starter. And if the Royals see him as a fit in the rotation in the future, he should open the year in Omaha. Speaking of Omaha, he will start the Royals final exhibition game against the Storm Chasers on Monday.

Tim Hill was protected by the Royals in the Rule 5 draft and could be rewarded with a spot on the Opening Day roster, although he represents the longest long shot. However, the Royals want him to work on his slider, so it looks like Triple-A is the destination.

And all the roster intrigue isn’t limited to the bullpen. All indications are Ryan Goins will make the team which means another 40-man roster move is forthcoming.

Opening Day is just around the corner. The bullpen questions have yet to be settled, but don’t discount the Royals’ ability to spring a surprise roster move or two before everything is set for Thursday.

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