I apologize if this is the first you’ve heard of this issue, but the Royals bullpen is not what you’d call good. It probably actually isn’t even as bad as you’d expect. If I asked 10 people to guess what the collective ERA of the bullpen was, I’m guessing they’d be about a run higher than the reality of the 5.37 number that it sits at, but it goes beyond that. They allow too many hits, they don’t strike enough batters out and they walk too many. They also give up a ton of home runs. What do they do well? They do get some double plays, so there’s that.
For awhile, the bullpen wasn’t so much the problem as three pitchers – Blaine Boyer, Jason Grimm and Brandon Maurer. That’s actually still true. Just look at these numbers for fun.
Even though 13 percent of the bullpen’s innings brought the unit’s ERA up a full point, I don’t think it’s fair to say this bullpen is actually any good if you exclude those three. For one, Maurer is still on the team and he’s even thrown four straight scoreless innings somehow. Plus, the same 13 percent of innings going the other way belong to Kelvin Herrera who isn’t even on the team anymore and Brad Keller who is now in the starting rotation. So let’s just say that even though those three are a big ol’ gas can, the bullpen is still a problem. In fact, take a look at the numbers without Herrera and Keller:
So yeah, losing Keller and Herrera from the bullpen hurts quite a bit. Just for fun, here’s what the current crop of relievers have done this year:
All this makes me think back to Dayton Moore’s statements about how he’s embarrassed by this season and how they’re going to do better in 2019. The Royals are 34-78. The bullpen has been responsible for 24 losses. Some of them are not their fault, but they’ve given up leads in 12 games and lost 12 tie games. The offense shoulders some of this blame, but this isn’t about them. This is about the bullpen that is one of the worst we’ve seen in a long time in Kansas City. I’m just pulling a number out of thin air here, but even an average bullpen probably wins, let’s say, six of the games with a blown lead. And maybe pulls out four of the 12 ties. I’m not even talking about a good bullpen, but an average one. So give the Royals 12 more wins and they’re 46-66. They’re still horrible, still picking top five or six next year, but it’s less disheartening.
Those numbers are exactly why I believe the Royals are going to do something silly and spend some money or player collateral on the bullpen. I understand to some extent. At least a portion of developing big leaguers is winning games, and this bullpen is a deterrent to winning games. And if the Royals end up trading for some long-term assets in the bullpen, I’ll be a lot more okay with that than if they try to make a free agent splash. So what could the 2019 bullpen look like?
Let’s start with the incumbents. The Royals best three relievers right now are, I hope you’re sitting, Kevin McCarthy, Brian Flynn and Wily Peralta. All have been fine, but none of those three should ever be better than maybe the fourth best reliever in a bullpen. I think they all have their place in a big league bullpen if there aren’t better options, but they need to do better. Glenn Sparkman and Jason Adam have shown flashes of being acceptable as well, though Adam obviously allows too many home runs right now and I think Sparkman falls in the same category as the first three eventually.
There are a couple minor league options. Richard Lovelady is the obvious here, and I think he’ll be up in the big leagues soon enough and it’s pretty clear he’s part of the future plans. Josh Staumont has been in the rotation and the bullpen this year, but as a reliever has excelled in many ways this year. The issue is that he’s still walking way too many with 35 in 44.2 innings out of the bullpen. Still, 65 strikeouts in that time is pretty attractive. And they also have Jorge Lopez, who they received in the Mike Moustakas deal. The Royals are figuring out his role right now, but I’ll play spoiler and tell you he ends up in the bullpen. He hasn’t been good yet and has control issues like Staumont, but a 95 MPH fastball and a plus curve could be a nice combination.
Looking to free agents, I could see the Royals signing a guy to close with the idea of maybe flipping him in July. Cody Allen is out there and maybe his struggles push him to a team like the Royals, but I still think he gets a deal with a contender. David Robertson will be a free agent, but I can’t imagine he’ll enjoy going from a team like the Yankees to the Royals unless he’s desperate to get a closer’s job and nobody else is offering one. Your better bets here are guys like John Axford, Brad Brach, Brad Ziegler or maybe someone like Justin Wilson.
And looking at some trade targets, maybe they see if they can get Ken Giles right if he doesn’t do well in Toronto. The Mariners are always a possibility to trade with and they have Alex Colome setting up for Edwin Diaz and might want some youth somewhere. I bet the Rockies would gladly move away from their Bryan Shaw deal. Or their Jake McGee deal. Or their Wade Davis deal. That’s a lot of money to absorb in any of those deals, so they’re unlikely, but you never know what can be worked out.
The point is, right or wrong, the Royals are probably going to be making some bullpen moves unless a few players step up over the last couple months of the season. I don’t think they’ll be spending huge money or anything, but it’s difficult to look at what this bullpen has done so far and how Dayton Moore feels about this season and not think there are changes coming. Is it worth it to win 71 games instead of 64? I don’t believe it is, but I have a feeling the front office disagrees and they get the final say for better or for worse.