The Downside – The Bullpen
Everything in RoyalLand is warm and fuzzy, well everythingÂ except the Yuniesky Betancourt signing which as DBLesky pointed out isn’t nearly as bad as most of us bloggers made it out to be.Â Even with that though things in KC look good the All Star game is coming for the first time in years, there areÂ young studsÂ all over the 25 and 40 man rosterÂ as well as having aÂ rebuilt rotation thatÂ has enough upside that if you squint you can see a possible rainbow shining.Â All of this could allow KC to possibly challenge .500 for the first time since 2003 which for most of us diehard Royal fans is enough to smile.
With all this positivity what better time for me to toss in some black clouds and wake us all up to what could happen next season.
I’ll start with the bullpen, as some of us bloggers might have an overinflated sense of theÂ talent walking out of the cage as evidenced during a recent Buster Olney question on twitter as to who had the 10 best bullpens in the majors,Â a fewÂ of us tweeted out Soria, Crow, Holland and Broxton’s names as if they wereÂ locks to have great seasonsÂ but then I got to thinking, is this that good of a pen?Â Yes they are long on talent but equally they are long on ifs, here are just a few of those.
5. Kelvin HerreraÂ big arm, big talentÂ - Kelvin Herrera surprised many Royals prospectÂ gawkers last season withÂ his performances but Kelvin has always had the power arm, solid curve and change in a starting role but his small frame just wasn’t able to stand up to theÂ workload.Â Â His intro to theÂ bullpen yielded the type of results oneÂ should expect fromÂ someoneÂ who profiles as a upper levelÂ starter with anÂ average to above three pitch mix in one or two inning stints, dominating hitters at three different levels.Â Herrera doesn’t carry much weight to the bullpen but his talent could match that of any arm in the pen currently and his addition could push a less talented arm likeÂ Blake Wood to the minors or just workingÂ less innings.Â A Herrera omission while not hugeÂ makesÂ for a less talented armÂ running out as the 6th, 7th or even 8th arm from the cage.
4. Little Timmy’s big control problems – Collins was a fan favorite to start the season as manyÂ liked to compareÂ themselvesÂ to the slight 5’7 lefty.Â Yet fans don’t have a 94 mph fastball, a drop your chin curveball that can buckle a hitters legs while also toating aÂ changeup that makes Aaron Crow jealous.Â That’s a decent three pitch mix folks, especially out of the pen where most relievers can get away with just two pitches but Collins with that repertoire struggled due to the fact that he couldn’t hit the broad side of the strikezone at times, finishing only ahead of Aroldis Chapman(7.38/9) in walks per 9 with his 6.45 total.Â That means Collins jog from the pen had a 16.3% chance to end in a walk, not that valuable considering he had a 1.49 WHIP which also puts him in the bottom 10% of major league relievers.Â Collins hasÂ solid pitches and the leftiness to be aÂ good arm out of the pen but if he continues to walk hitters at a Marmolian pace he doesn’t have the stuff to make him valuable.
3. Jonathan Broxton the newÂ Ramon RamirezÂ or Juan Cruz – If I was to tell you Jonathan Broxton ranks 20th in WAR among relievers over the last 10 years would that surprise you?Â Well it shouldn’t, Broxton from ’07 to ’09 was as good as any in the game piling up 7 WAR and ultimately reachingÂ his peakÂ with aÂ 2.8 WAR and a major league best 13.5 K/9 in 2009.Â Broxton did most of this with his heavy 96-98 mph fastball and gotcha slider mowing down hitters and piling up the Holds( 32 in 2007)Â and a few savesÂ making the lineman sized relief pitcher as effective as they come during that time.Â Since that ’09 peak his velocity average has dropped from 97.8 to last seasons 94.1 while the effectiveness of both pitches have fallen from being well above average to below last season, earning him a 5.68 ERA as well as career lows in K/9 (7.11)Â and BB/9 (6.39).Â Obviously the front office believes he’s worth the risk aÂ 1 year 4 million dollar rebuilt arm cost but if Broxton’s arm isn’t recovered he could drag down the pen as if they were carrying a 300 lbs weight around its neck much like Juan Cruz and his great looking contract did a couple seasons ago.
2. Aaron Crow All Star, Starter or Overexposed – Many fans were a bit disappointed when the Royals broke out of spring training in 2011 with Aaron Crow in the bullpen.Â It wasn’t that they were mad to see a former first rounder on the 25 man roster, no it was seen more as a sign that maybe the 12th overall pick of the 2009 draft wasn’t the starter that some had hoped when he was drafted.Â Â Despite the negativity Crow shined for four months last season earningÂ the Royals loneÂ All Star nod and pitching his way to a 1.76 ERA thru July.Â Â Aaron wasÂ embarrassing big league hittersÂ and looking likeÂ he would take overÂ the blogger world as theÂ heir toÂ the “reliever” should be a starter blog topic, then August happened andÂ Crow for whatever its worth either hit a wall orÂ got caught up to by big league hitters giving up 29 baserunners (19 hits, 9 walks) in just 11 innings while allowing 9 runs in that time.Â It was late in the season so maybe Crow was just worn down by never having to pitch that late into the season at a top level the way a reliever is asked to out of the pen or maybe hitters figured out that they could avoid the slider and sit on the fastball.Â For whatever reason Kansas City has the possibility of losing a talented righty setup man either to the rotation if he would surprise all by earning a starting spot or there is a chance that Crow’s late season swoon continues.Â In either scenario the Royals face a weakened bullpen.
1. Joakim SoriaÂ can’t bounce backÂ - Soria for four seasons was as good as any closer or member of a bullpen on any team in the majors, so good that many of us were asking for a Top 10 major league prospect in return for him but then the inevitable wall hit last season.Â Â Many closers outside ofÂ Mariano RiveraÂ encounter some type of adversity whether it be injury, control problems or just a lack of velocity that makes it difficult for them to close out innings and games.Â Some like Trevor Hoffman develop a can’t hit change up and hang around closing games for yearsÂ but most never find their stuff and fade away.Â Soria unlike most doesn’t depend on a top notch fastball but more onÂ pin point command, control, a four pitch mixÂ and a I’ve fallen and can’t get up curveball that totally left him for most of last season which all combined makes him incredible but without all components can make him average.Â If Soria can’t become the pitcher that we’ve seen from 2007 to 2010Â then Kansas City’s pen gets stretched out further pushing Broxton or Holland to a closer roll something neither has done over the last couple seasons while also pushing a rookie like Kelvin Herrera or a less talented Blake WoodÂ into more innings, more leverage and possibly more deficits.Â And that is before we get to the reality of the coaching staff takingÂ multiple blown savesÂ or more bad appearances by Soria leading to losses that could cost a .500 or better record for Kansas City.Â Jack as the coaches annoyingly call him carries a big weight ultimately into how good this bullpen could actually be.
The Royals bullpen has plenty of loaded arms to run outÂ many of whom (Holland, Soria, Crow and Broxton)Â have put upÂ All Star levelÂ seasonsÂ in the big leagues as well as a few others who have the talent level (Herrera, Louis Coleman and Tim Collins) to be effective relievers but with most there are plenty of heavy ifs and buts.Â And we all know if ifs and buts were candy and nuts the Royals would have more than one winning season in 18 years.
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