The Royals’ historically-great bullpen once led them to a Championship. Since then, its all been downhill. Can they patch up the pen before it’s too late?
In the 2014 and 2015 MLB seasons, the Kansas City Royals boasted not only the best bullpen in the league, but arguably the best bullpen in baseball history. It was built upon on the shoulders of the famed “HDH” (Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland) and by turning Davis into the most dominant closer the team has ever seen, leading to one of the greatest two-year stretches in league history.
But this is 2019, and there is no “HDH” to call when the team has the lead heading in to the seventh inning. While the 2014 version was 72-1 when leading after the sixth inning, the 2019 version has lost nine straight contests. In eight of those games, the team has either been tied, or had the lead, at some point after the sixth.
While that number itself is cause for concern, when looking at the actual statistics, things are actually much worse. According to Baseball Reference, the team has blown 60 percent of its save opportunities, and boasts a 7.04 ERA, ranking them 27th in the majors, with their .308 opponent batting average ranking 28th.
The numbers aren’t pretty, and it’s because the bullpen is bad.
In fact, at this point, the lone bright spot in the bullpen so far has been “Dickie Love“. The problem with the recently-recalled Richard Lovelady is that he’s only had one relief appearance thus far.
So, what can the Royals, and general manager Dayton Moore, do about it?
Let’s start out by eliminating the most obvious solutions, because they’re not going to happen. Kansas City will not spend a significant amount to bring in any of the quality relief pitchers still on the market, nor will they trade away farm system assets to improve the 2019 roster. This team has a plan, and it’s all about building for the future. They will not mortgage that future to improve a team that they already view as being incapable of succeeding.
So, if we know what they will not do, that leaves very limited options for improving the outlook for this squad. But, manager Ned Yost does have a couple of options that he should begin considering immediately, otherwise its going to be a long, hot, and boring summer for baseball fans throughout the greater Kansas City area.
1. The Call Ups
Yost and Moore could decide to call up young arms and utilize them in the bullpen to begin getting big-league and high-leverage experience. The top-ranked prospects that could be in line for promotion include Scott Blewitt (real name, real bad name for a reliever), Foster Griffin, Josh Staumont, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and/or Daniel Lynch. The Royals believe in these players as future contributors on the major league roster. But they are unlikely to rush the future and bring them in before they’re ready. That has been a consistent trend of the Moore era. And, with ball players, that is often the best strategy. But, if Kansas City decides it wants to be competitive, this may be their best strategy.
2. The Nuclear Option
The front office could make the decision to cut every bullpen arm on the roster that they do not view as part of the future, and just sign whatever free agents are available. The cuts would likely include, in this scenario, Willie Peralta, Brad Boxberger, Ian Kennedy, Scott Barlow and Jake Diekman (at least). This would allow Kansas City to give the illusion of trying, which may be critical to selling tickets this summer, while still not rushing the future arms in the organization.
This may also prove to be a necessary part of the first option.
3. Blame the Coaches
The Royals could also choose to fire pitching coach Cal Eldridge, bullpen coach Vance Wilson or both. This strategy may spark something in the bullpen arms, but also like option two, may also at least give the illusion to the fan base that something is being done to try to solve the issues.
The Royals offense and starting pitching have both been pleasant surprises through the first 11 games of the season. They’ve been productive and consistent, in ways that were not predicted before the season started.
Moore may ultimately decide to let this season ride out, chalking it up as a lost year without All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. But, if he, owner David Glass and Yost decide to make this team watchable for the season, options do exist to bolster what has thus far been and abysmal start to the season for the relief staff.