Back in September's Royals Post-Mortem (not for this site), I wrote the following piece about the bullpen:
- Greg Holland has been completely dominant; he's having maybe one of the best seasons as a closer of all-time! Holland was close to being this good in 2011, but took a major step back in 2012 before this incredible season.
- Luke Hochevar is nearly as dominant, having a very Jason Motte-esque year, but in a far less interesting role; despite Luke having the second best numbers in the bullpen, he had just 2 saves and 8 holds in 57 appearances this year (going into game 161).
- Kelvin Herrera was amazing in 2012. It was a great performance in the pen, made more so by Kelvin being 22 years old and throwing 102 miles an hour on occasion. In early 2013, he was getting homers hit off of him left and right and he was actually sent down for a short while. Despite that, his numbers look very similar to last years', except he's really been slightly better overall.
- Aaron Crow was a starter in college and in the minors, but came up as a bullpen piece in 2011 at age 24. He was good that year, but not incredible...however, he may have been the best Royal and made the All-Star team as a rookie. I think that sealed his fate as a reliever and the Royals never thought of him as a starter again, unfortunately. In 2012, he leapfrogged forward and pitched better than he did as a rookie; but in 2013, he has had his worst year in the majors - but somehow not fallen out of favor with 19 holds. Yet again, more reason to fire Yost for not using his players correctly.
- Tim Collins burst on the scene in 2011 to become a decent pitcher that was overexposed too early at age 21. He hadn't harnessed his control, but became a favorite option out of the pen. He got much better in 2012, to become a good bullpen option. Much like Crow, however, he has dropped back to a performance closer to equaling his "decent" 2011 rather than his "good" 2012 and not fallen out of favor, with over 20 holds, despite every other reliever I will list having better years than Collins and Crow.
- Will Smith is a young 23 year old lefty. He threw 89 2/3 innings in the majors in 2012, but all as a starter. He was not good. He was beyond not good. But, he was 23. As a reliever this year, he has been excellent. He has been Hochevar and nearly Holland excellent. This is an example of Yost doing something right - getting Smith into games late. He had a 9-game stretch in which he earned a win, 6 holds, a blown save due to an unearned run, and one game in which he came in to face one batter in the 6th inning. Then Yost stopped using him when the season got to be on the line. Go figure.
- Similarly, Louis Coleman in 2013 has been excellent, like the others mentioned. This is after he was good in 2011, but just decent in 2012. He has only been used in 26 games this year; he has 3 wins and 4 holds. He has zero losses, zero blown saves, and has appeared in just 10 games which the Royals won. Similarly, he has thrown 10 of his 26 games when there has been a 4 run lead or larger in one direction or the other. He has appeared in just 2 tied games, 3 games separated by 1 run, and 4 games separated by 2 runs. This is despite him having a 0.812 WHIP (that means he gives up one single base runner in just 4 out of 5 innings he pitches on average), and striking out more than 1 man per inning. He has struck out over 7 men for every 1 man he has walked. He has been #Yosted this year as well.
With news coming out of Arizona that Royals' reliever Luke Hochevar might be out for the season due to a UCL sprain - possibly needing Tommy John surgery - what should the 2014 Royals bullpen look like coming out of Spring Training?
Obviously you want your best 5 guys making starts rather than coming out of the bullpen. If we are to believe Sam Mellinger's tweets, it seems the starting 5, in some order, will be set as:
1. James Shields
2. Jason Vargas
3. Bruce Chen
4. Jeremy Guthrie
5. Yordano Ventura
That still leaves you with a slew of guys who have pitched the last two seasons for the Royals to choose from for the 7 bullpen slots. Greg Holland (1) is the incumbent closer and was masterful last year. There's no reason to keep him out of that role. Kelvin Herrera (2), so long as he's not giving up 2 homers every 9 innings, is the second best bet out of the bullpen and should be a setup man. I would argue that Louis Coleman (3) should be the other setup man now that Hochevar is done for the season, even though (I think it was Mellinger again) it has been mentioned that Aaron Crow will get the next shot at it. I would have Will Smith battling for a key spot in the pen as well, but he was the piece that went to Milwaukee for the starting RF I mentioned yesterday, Nori Aoki. Another player with a potentially bright future that the Royals got rid of was Felipe Paulino . He can not join their pen now that he's playing for the Chicago White Sox - likely in their mix to join the rotation. A third one is Blake Wood , who pitched all of 70ish innings for the Royals the last 3 seasons due to injuries...but he could have been an effective piece as well. A fourth one is Nathan Adcock , who has moved on to the Rangers' organization. More incumbents to the bullpen, but not in the roles I would have them in, are Tim Collins and Wade Davis. Out of all the names I have thrown out that are still with the club, Collins is the only lefty so it would be remiss of me to not point out that Donnie Joseph and Francisley Bueno both have a serious shot at making the club. Another lefty, if Ventura makes the rotation, is Danny Duffy. It would be interesting to see in this scenario if Duffy came to the bullpen to be with the club or if they would option him to AAA Omaha to stretch him out as a starter. Lastly, Everett Teaford will join the mix looking for a role to play in the pen, and long man might suit him just fine (along with Wade Davis.) The 4-7 I would rely on would look this way:
Danny Duffy to the minors until they think he's ready to contribute, then Jeremy Guthrie or Bruce Chen to the bullpen to take a spot while Duffy goes into the rotation.
(Bullpen #4) Wade Davis as the long man / 6th starter until Duffy is ready. Then, we'll see how he's pitching.
(#5) Aaron Crow in a middle reliever role, not a setup man. More the 6th/7th inning guy.
(#6) Collins/Teaford/Joseph/Bueno - lefty #1
(#7) Collins/Teaford/Joseph/Bueno - lefty #2
I go with whichever lefty they believe will give them the best chance to win the entire season and send the others down.
That's my take. What's yours? (Who am I forgetting?)