MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals

Searching for the bullpen solution

Hey, the bullpen was a problem for the Royals in 2018.

To be fair, there were a lot of problems for the Royals. April, for example. That entire month was a problem. June was grim, too. Hell, the whole first five months of the season were wretched. Still, pointing the finger at the bullpen and its collective 5.04 ERA is easy to do. Besides, did you know that ERA was worst in the AL and second worst in the majors? (The Marlins finished with a 5.34 ERA from their relievers.)

Here’s a fun little exercise to partake in during those endless winter nights. According to the Baseball Reference Play Index, going back to 1961 there have been 34 pitchers who have thrown in at least 15 games and posted an ERA above 10. The Royals had two who did it last year! Come on down Blaine Boyer who finished with a 12.05 ERA in 21 appearances before mercifully earning his release. His teammate Justin Grimm had a 13.50 ERA in 16 games in Kansas City and somehow found his way to Seattle.

Those were two of the worst offenders, but it’s not like they were crazy outliers. There was plenty of dreck beyond the right field wall.

So now the Royals are going to get creative.

Because of the way the market will shake out for relievers and because it’s an area of need (and past successes), this is one place the Royals can aim to make additions. For instance, they can grab an arm off the scrapheap a la Michael Ynoa. The one time heralded prospect was released by the White Sox in spring training last March and spent the year out of baseball. He represents the no-risk/potential reward type of signing the Royals need to pursue. Throw him in the mix and see what he has to offer. The only cost is a minor league contract.

This being the Royals, the favored route is always to keep things in house. Dayton Moore extolled his options this week to MLB.com‘s Jeffery Flanagan. The Royals plan to head to spring training without anyone penciled in for a particular role.

“But as you know, the most important thing is to make sure that we use our pitchers in a very efficient way to get 27 outs. We need to use our pitchers in a creative and efficient way to get 27 outs and win baseball games.

“The bullpen roles will take care of themselves. And Ned does an excellent job of letting that organically resolve itself, if you will.”

This is simply smart management. There is no reason to look at the arms the Royals have assembled and begin to make assignments based on past performance or future potential. The bullpen is volatile enough for anyone to foolishly make an assumption one specific pitcher is suited for a particular role. 

Besides, the second part of that statement from Moore is key. It’s up to Ned Yost and his staff to figure out how this particular puzzle fits together. The bullpen by committee will only last for so long, but without a cyborg or two out there, it’s unlikely any role will be set in stone. The closer may very well be Wily Peralta (even though Moore insists the job is not his at the moment), but the odds are strongly against him holding that job for an entire summer. And if Moore and his crew have learned anything in this post World Championship era, it’s that it isn’t exactly intelligent fiscal practice to throw big money at relievers. Kick a rock and you may find an arm of some usefulness for a few months.

The hope is that the Royals build up enough of an inventory that we won’t have to suffer through nearly 40 combined outings from relievers such as the aforementioned Boyer and Grimm.

The votes are in for the Cy Young awards and the big news is Jacob deGrom won despite having just 10 Pitcher Wins to his credit. deGrom’s overall numbers were stunning. A 1.70 ERA with and 11.2 SO/9 and 1.9 BB/9. The voters were able to see past his subpar team to recognize his individual greatness. Of course, there is much celebration that the Pitcher Win is sliding further toward absolute irrelevance.

This is true, but the media celebrating deGrom’s triumph should be sure to pay their respects to Zack Greinke and his Cy Young season for the Royals in 2009. That was a summer that saw a trio of 19 game winners in the AL, but none had the peripheral stats that Greinke possessed. He was simply the most dominant pitcher in the league that summer. A 2.16 ERA, 2.33 FIP and 1.033 WHIP were the best rates in the league. The fact that his team was even worse than the 2018 Mets thankfully played no part in the outcome of the balloting. It seems quaint now, but it was quite a big deal that a starter with only 16 Pitcher Wins was awarded. The final vote wasn’t even close as Greinke garnered 25 of 28 first place votes.

Greinke’s win paved the way for Felix Hernandez the very next year. King Felix, pitching for the Mariners, won the Cy Young with only 13 Pitcher Wins to his credit. 

The writers have been savvy enough on Pitcher Wins for a long time. A younger writing corps who grew up on Baseball Prospectus and Bill James Abstracts know which statistics hold the most value and tell the best story. Once again, they got it right. Pitcher Wins, be damned.

The AL Cy Young award this year was a little closer and went to the pitcher who did have the most wins in Blake Snell. The ying and yang of the award voting. It’s tough to argue against Snell who had an excellent season, but in my make believe ballot I would have voted Verlander first.

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Gerrit Cole
  3. Trevor Bauer
  4. Blake Snell
  5. Chris Sale

Not really sure how Corey Kluber was a finalist. The five listed were clearly the head of the class for me. Sale is penalized here for lack of innings compared to the other four. That’s where Snell gets knocked down a peg in my rankings. He can make a case for second, but he faced about 100 batters fewer than Cole and 130 less than Verlander. Besides, I place a hefty value on strikeouts and walks, along with ERA and the assorted peripherals.

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