by John Viril—
Coming into the 2013 season, many analysts saw the Kansas City Royals bullpen as the strength of the team. From top to bottom, the Royals were loaded with young, power arms. The back end was seen as particularly strong, with lefty Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, setup man Kelvin Herrera, and closer Greg Holland. As a group, fangraphs.com rated them as the 5th best bullpen in MLB.
Their current numbers are right in line with that ranking. Royals relievers have the fourth best ERA in MLB at 2.97 (2nd in the American League). They also have the 2nd highest number of bullpen wins (20) to Arizona’s (21). Yet, those statistics are somewhat deceiving. The Royals are struggling to find a reliable setup man.
Last season, that guy was Kelvin Herrera (2.35 ERA, 8.22 K/9). Herrera was so dominant, many saw him taking over from Greg Holland as closer due to Herrera’s lower walk rate (2.24 BB/9 vs. 4.57 BB/9 in 2012). Herrera’s walk rate in 2013, however, has ballooned to 4.88 per 9—leading to a high 5.20 ERA and his demotion to AAA Omaha.
We are now approaching mid-July and the Royals still haven’t established a go-to guy for the eighth inning.
The unsettled relief situation has recently taken a toll on the team. In the last 8 games, the Royals pitching staff has given up 46 runs in 8 games—and average of 5.75 runs per game. Much of the problem has been relievers unable to work out of jams like they had earlier in the season.
The only reason the Royals are 5-3 over that span has been the resurgent offense, which has also produced 46 runs. The result has been a series of high scoring games. Tim Collins, J.C. Gutierrez, and Aaron Crow have failed to hold leads. Luke Hochevar received a trial as setup man in New York on Monday night when manager Ned Yost called on him to hold a 5-1 lead in the 9th, but Hochevar gave up a walk and a hit to put runners on first and second. Eventually, closer Greg Holland had to face down a bases-loaded and no-outs situation to nail down a tense win.
While entertaining, the Royals’ bullpen needs to get back to their stingy ways if the team wishes to make a run at the playoffs.