Pretty much anybody you talk to will you tell you that the most volatile part of a team is the bullpen. I see two main reasons for that. The first is the sheer number of innings pitched by those out of the bullpen. Even a reliever relied on extremely heavily will only pitch 80 or so innings. If a reliever goes through a rough stretch and gives up eight runs over a five inning stretch and pitches 65 innings all year, it can mean a full run of ERA difference over the course of the season. So sometimes the actual numbers of a reliever aren’t necessarily the be all, end all. A real world example is Greg Holland last year who finished last year with a very good 2.96 ERA, but that’s with eight earned runs allowed in 6.1 innings while pitching hurt. After coming back, he was lights out in 60.2 innings putting up a 2.08 ERA. There’s a significant difference between that and the actual end result.
Having said that, I think the one part of the 2013 Royals we can look at and have very high hopes for is the bullpen. Part of what makes the unit so good is there’s quite a combination of star power in Holland and Herrera, pitchers with potential to be great (if nothing else, at times) in Collins and Crow and then some other arms who you can mix and match with. For example, if the Royals could use Coleman and Joseph both in the bullpen, they’d have a lefty specialist and a righty specialist who can just be death on their respective opponents. Clint and I talk about this in this week’s podcast about how hopefully the extra innings coming from the starting rotation will allow Ned Yost to mix and match and play the matchups a lot better. The example I use in the podcast is that anytime Miguel Cabrera bats in the sixth or seventh innings and the starter is out, Louis Coleman should face him. Â And then when Prince Fielder comes to bat next, it’s Donnie Joseph time.
The starting rotation is a huge key in what could make this Royals bullpen one of the great ones in baseball. We’ve talked a lot about the innings added to the Royals rotation with their moves, and I’ve said this a few times, but aside from the win total, the biggest beneficiaries of the extra rotation innings will be the arms of Holland, Herrera, Crow and Collins among others. The sheer number of innings the Royals bullpen has been forced to throw over the past few seasons has been enough to provide some serious injury concern for all of the guys who seem to be getting overworked. I think Greg Holland’s injury last year was actually a blessing in disguise because it kept his innings totals down. If Royals starters can consistently get into the seventh and later, I think there’s a very real chance the Royals bullpen is better than anyone’s.
I think it’s funny when I rummage through my head (and trust me, it’s a scary place to be) and realize how down I am on Aaron Crow. He actually had a better season in 2012 than in 2011 when you look a little deeper into the numbers, but for some reason I just find myself uneasy when he takes the mound. I’ll tell you right now that it doesn’t make all that much sense, but it’s just the way I feel. Anyway, my opinion of him makes me laugh because I think I feel the way I do because he’s just not as good as Holland and Herrera. On many teams, Crow would be the second best reliever, but on the Royals and on the right day, he could be the sixth or seventh best reliever in the bullpen. Typically he sits as the third or fourth best, but that right there is part of what makes the bullpen so great.
It’s not just depth on the roster, but also what the Royals have in the minor leagues ready to take over if any injuries or ineffectiveness occur. As it stands right now, the Royals look to keep Luis Mendoza, Bruce ChenÂ and Luke Hochevar, which means two of those three will likely be in the bullpen. Add in a guy like Juan Gutierrez and then Everett Teaford, Francisely Bueno, Nate Adcock, Coleman and Joseph and the depth right there alone looks really solid. Clint mentioned the one guy who I think can be the biggest boost to the bullpen by mid-season and that’s Yordano Ventura. The Royals see Ventura as a starter right now, but even if that’s where he ends up, if the Royals are in a race, I think they’ll see him as their Francisco Rodriguez or David Price. So he’s another name to add to the depth list. Kyle Zimmer is farther away, but he could make an impact in the bullpen if he moves quickly, though I wouldn’t count on that. And then you add in Duffy and Paulino who could either be inserted into the bullpen or put in the rotation in place of a guy like Wade Davis and the bullpen just keeps getting stronger.
I’m not entirely sure why I wrote a whole article about the Royals bullpen other than the fact that it’s just really comforting to have a unit that good on the roster where you can go into the season with as few questions as just about any unit in all of baseball. Being able to count on your starters only having to go six innings is just a huge boost. A great bullpen will not make a team, but a bad bullpen can certainly break a team. The beauty of the Royals ‘pen is that if someone goes down or struggles, there will be another guy ready to take their place. The other option is if a team is desperate for a reliever at the trade deadline, the Royals can stick their noses in and try to add talent without really hurting their team. Knowing those relievers are there is just a great feeling.
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