Is It 1977 All Over Again?

If Ned Yost read a Tidewater newspaper with his morning coffee on September 17, 1977, several events from the world of baseball might have caught his eye and caused contemplation for the AAA catcher. The San Francisco Giants had the day before started Bill Madlock at second base. Madlock had never played one inning at any position other than third base in his major league career, having logged 529 games at third base. Perhaps Ned remembered that on July 5, 1972, Ron Santo started his first game at second base for the Cubs, after having played 1,812 games at third base, 12 games at shortstop, and 6 games in left field. Santo had never played one inning at second base in the majors before, and Ron did eventually start 37 games at second base for the cross-town White Sox in 1974.

Another story that might have interested the young Mr. Yost was news that the Seattle Mariners had won the night before. The 4-1 Mariners victory snapped a sixteen-game winning streak by the Royals and Kansas City's record for the season stood at 91-55. That 1977 Kansas City team was something to behold.

The Royals needed a variety of players at one outfield position, but the rest of the lineup was very durable. Reading the statistics through September 16, 1977, Kansas City's DH and one of the outfielders had never missed a contest. The shortstop had to only sit out two games in a row once. The catcher only had to sit out two games in a row twice. The first baseman once had to rest for three consecutive games, and the second baseman once required time off for five straight contests and once needed two games in a row. The unmentioned outfielder had suffered some nicks, but nothing serious, sitting six games at a time once and two straight games once. The young third baseman needed occasional relief, missing eleven, five, and three straight games on those trio of occasions. It is possible that Ned Yost had some impression that morning in Tidewater that a team filled with iron men could go places.

It is unlikely that Mr. Yost remembers the bullpen of the 1977 Kansas City Royals, if Ned feels that the pitching staff has to have twelve pitchers. The Royals only had thirteen different men throw a pitch that season. The thirteenth most-used pitcher accounted for 2.0 innings. If one adds the sums of pitchers thirteen and twelve from the 1977 Royals, the total is 7.1 innings. Pitchers thirteen, twelve, and eleven combined for 14.1 innings. If one added all the innings pitched by fellows thirteen, twelve, eleven, and ten, one would only reach 22.0 innings in 14 games.

Times have changed. The modern bullpen is used in different ways than back in the days of disco and Ned's leisure suits, but Mr. Ned Yost only has to think back to 2013 for some idea about the likely use or need of a twelfth pitcher for the 2014 Royals.

It appears that Ned Yost most commonly uses his twelfth pitcher in a mop-up role during games when the Royals are trailing by four or more runs. When Luis Mendoza was sent to the pen last season after a two-inning start on July 7, Mendoza was only given five chances to pitch in relief over the next 50 games, with the Royals losing all five games. Luis Mendoza was given one bullpen chance in a tie game with the Mets, but his two-inning effort included surrendering the game-winning homerun and taking the loss. Once, Mendoza was called out to the field with the team only down by three, but that event only included one inning of Mendoza work. Three times Luis came into the game with the Royals trailing by four runs, and Mendoza managed at least two innings twice on those occasions.

If one thinks that Luis Mendoza is just a special case and that some other twelfth pitcher is necessary, consider another stretch of 52 games going from last opening day completely through all of our May rough patch, including the game of May 31. Seven of those games had the Royals lose by four or more runs, but Guthrie managed at least seven innings pitched in two of the contests, so the need for a mop-up fellow only amounted to (like Mendoza's calling over 50 contests) five games. Bruce Chen was called to bail out the game three times during that stretch, with Luke Hochevar getting the honors twice (the starters who needed help were Smith once, Mendoza once, and Davis thrice).

I don't see any reason why one of Chen, Davis, or Hochevar Penny Teaford-Walters can't be the mop-up man in 2014, as it is doubtful that all three will be in the starting rotation, even if we send Duffy and Ventura back to Omaha. What is probably necessary if we go with some eleven-man pitching staff is a relief pitcher who can follow the mop-up guy with two or more innings of work to save the remaining arms. One thing that J.C. Gutierrez provided early in the season was the ability to go a bit longer, throwing at least two innings on six occasions while with the 2013 Royals.

The obvious candidates for middle relief (if two innings of work is the modern definition of the term) have various recent track records. Louis Coleman provided at least two innings of relief work eleven times in 2011, nine times in 2012, and once last season. Kelvin Herrera managed the feat eight times in 2012 and five times in 2013. Tim Collins threw at least two innings in seven 2011 games, nine in 2012, and four in 2013. Francisley Bueno provided middle relief on one occasion both last season and the year before with limited chances, but Mr. Bueno has done so for those years more often than Aaron Crow (once in 2012, zero in 2013). When Aaron Crow was an All Star in 2011, in seven games he tossed at least two innings in relief. Besides the obvious candidates, Kansas City has any number of fellows who would be willing to be the middle relief pitcher for the 2014 Royals (or even mop-up guy at $500K a year).

Ned Yost might still have some memory of Tidewater and reading the sports while drinking his morning coffee. We can only hope that the recollections that count are the ones which most contribute towards the 2014 Kansas City Royals winning 102 games or so.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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