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Innings, WAR, Good, Bad and Ugly

The one certainty in the Royals bullpen: Greg Holland
The one certainty in the Royals bullpen: Greg Holland
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Still suffering from a Chiefs' hangover?  Worried about the Jayhawks? Well, how about some bullpen discussion instead?

The acquisition of Danny Valencia last month caused some discussion over just how the Royals' might construct their 25 man roster come April.  It would be nice to carry Valencia, Emilio Bonifacio, Jarrod Dyson, Justin Maxwell and a backup catcher on the roster, but that would obviously require breaking camp with just six relievers.  Being old and remembering a time when teams headed north with NINE (9) total pitchers on the team, it seems like a team ought to be able to make a six man bullpen work.

Times change, however.   After getting 228 innings out of  James Shields and 211 from both Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie in 2013, and still using 461 bullpen innings, it is hard to imagine the somewhat unimaginative Royals even giving a six man pen a chance.   More on this later, let's first take a look at American League bullpens over the last five years.

During that time, the average American League bullpen has thrown 485 innings per season.   The fewest innings thrown were:

Team Innings fWAR
2011 Tampa 391 0.8
2011 Seattle 411.2 0.8
2010 Seattle 419.1 -1.6
2011 LAA 422 0.4
2010 LAA 436 0.8

The most innings thrown were:

Team Innings fWAR
2013 Minn 579.1 5.5
2011 Balt 565.2 2.2
2012 KC 561.1 7.2
2009 Oak 559 8.3
2012 Minn 558 2.1

Excluding the Astros, here are the raw totals, sorted by most innings for all American League teams from 2009 through 2013:

Team Innings fWAR
Orioles 2664 17.2
Twins 2573 13.8
Blue Jays 2542 15.2
Indians 2539 7.8
Royals 2504 20.2
Athletics 2440 22.1
Red Sox 2425 24.3
Yankees 2384 23.6
Rangers 2384 27
Tigers 2306 15.6
White Sox 2286 26.4
Angels 2283 6.4
Mariners 2280 7.6
Rays 2266 15.7

And finally, your Kansas City Royals over the past five seasons:

2009 Royals 16 26 34 426 0 477 7.83 4.6 1.08 0.309 68.30% 42.80% 10.30% 5.02 4.58 4.56 2.1
2010 Royals 21 27 44 441 0 496.2 6.9 3.68 1.03 0.301 72.20% 42.50% 9.60% 4.46 4.41 4.38 0.6
2011 Royals 26 26 37 420 0 508.1 8.13 4.09 0.97 0.285 76.60% 45.20% 10.50% 3.75 4.07 3.96 3
2012 Royals 25 21 44 500 0 561.1 8.58 3.64 0.71 0.308 77.80% 46.00% 8.50% 3.17 3.52 3.85 7.2
2013 Royals 33 24 52 427 0 461.2 9.57 3.12 0.82 0.275 81.40% 41.60% 9.20% 2.55 3.21 3.38 7.3

This is just something to chew on as you endure the frigidity of this ridiculous Monday morning, don't want to remember the numbers 45-44 and, like me, could give a flying you know what about Kansas basketball.

What we do see here is that six pitchers all throwing 70 innings is still not enough to handle the usual American League workload.   Could a team work the system and run eight or nine pitchers through a six man pen throughout the course of a season?  Yes, they could, but the 'will they' is often lacking.

In the Royals' case, that would mean shuttling Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and Kelvin Herrera down to Omaha at various times during the year (check me on this, but I believe those are the four that have options remaining).  Certainly that would be workable, assuming that Luke Hochevar nails down the 8th inning in front of Holland  as I don't see the Royals (or any team, really) swapping out an effective set-up man.

Now, would Dayton Moore option an Aaron Crow to Omaha?  I get the feeling the longer a player is in the majors (like Collins and Crow), the less likely a GM is willing to put him on the shuttle between AAA and the Majors.  That  is a feeling, not analysis, so take it for what it is worth.

Let's also remember that as good as the Royals' rotation was at eating innings last season, the team always had seven pitchers in the pen and sometimes even eight.  Now, as discussed before, that seventh guy was often not used with any regularity, but he was there.

With a rotation that, barring something unexpected, will certainly pitch fewer innings than in 2013, it is hard to imagine Moore and Yost giving a six man pen a go in 2014.  Of course, then it makes the acquisition of an out of option third baseman curious in how one might construct a 25 man roster.

Then again, Dayton Moore has made us curious more than once.