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Do The Royals Have Anything In Bryan Bullington?

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Bryan Bullington has pitched surprisingly well in his two starts with the Royals this season, so, we might as well get our typical blog on and talk about it.

Here's the basic Bullington 2010 dossier:

Major League Starts: 14 IP, 1.93 ERA, 4 BBs, 9 Ks, .189 BABIP

Major League Relief Work: 7 IP, 5.14 ERA, 7 BBs, 1 HBP, 4 Ks

Minor League Numbers: 102 IP, 2.82 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9

Here's what Bullington has working in his favor:

  • A good ERA in the minors, with most of those innings coming as a starter.
  • Two good starts in the Major Leagues.
  • A 13% LD rate in the Majors this year.
  • A decent ground-baller pedigree.

Here's what Bullington had working against him:

  • Unimpressive strikeout rates at AAA.
  • A small sample of really bad relief work. However his numbers are so bad, you could almost make a sports pysch case that he just wasn't comfortable out there. Hence the wildness. Despite the fact he's had a lot of bullpen work in the last few years.
  • Clearly, nearly all of his success in his two glorious starts has come from simply not allowing any hits. He's done well to limit the walks, but it's not like he's Cliff Lee either.

I don't think any serious fan believes Bullington can post a sub 2.00 ERA as a starter in the Major Leagues. Almost no one can do that, even the very best pitchers. Really, the question is, can Bullington exist in that 3.75-4.75 range that would make him functional. (I don't like using ERA as the dominant stat, but for a quick and dirty measurement of what happened, it's not terrible. It's a bad stat for predicting future ERAs, but if you can understand that a pitcher can have a lucky ERA, but isn't going to sustain one, it's ok for our purposes.)

Bullington has in his favor his age (29) and whatever projectibles and physical tools once made him a top pick. Moreover, because of injuries, ineffectiveness, and his spending time with multiple organizations, he hasn't pitched that much in his 20s. Between 2007-2009 he bounced around, did some random bullpen time, and saved his arm. (Unless he played winter ball or something.) I guess you can put that in his favor. His 102 minor league innings this season is his most since 2008, and he's a decent bet to set a career high in total IP this year.

The thing that stands out about Bullington's minor league numbers, when you first look at them, is that they really aren't bad. They're not spectacular, but they aren't awful either.

ERA-wise, he's been decent at the AAA level. Bullington's thrown 528 AAA innings, and has a 3.90 ERA at that level. Nevertheless, his K/9 is at 6.7 and his walks are in the mid-2s. Bullington is relatively polished and probably a smart and composed minor league pitcher at this point, but even at AAA he's not missing enough bats.

For what it's worth, ZIPS projects Bullington to post a 4.85 ERA the rest of the way. That's not great, but it is considerably better than what is projected from Kyle Davies (5.28) and Brian Bannister (5.73). I don't know if I fully trust those numbers, but they do suggest that Bullington might not be a terrible option for the Royals for the rest of the season.