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The $26 million bullpen

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The Royals are allocating a lot of resources to the bullpen.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The big moves by Dayton Moore so far have been bullpen maneuvers. Trading Aaron Crow, signing Jason Frasor, and signing Luke Hochevar are the major things he's done. Bullpen guys all. With other bullpen guys Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins hitting arbitration, the bullpen is getting pretty darned expensive.

Name Salary
Greg Holland $9,300,000
Wade Davis $7,000,000
Kelvin Herrera $1,500,000
Luke Hochevar $4,000,000
Jason Frasor $1,250,000
Tim Collins $1,500,000
Louis Coleman $700,000
Guy $500,000
Total $25,750,000

For the players whose salary hasn't been fully determined, which is pretty much everyone here except Big Trade Wade, the Tossed Salad and Eggs fellow, and Luke Hochevar, I used the MLBTR arbitration estimates. "Guy" is the inevitable Omaha-AAA shuttle bus rider. Louis Coleman and Tim Collins might be on that shuttle bus sometime too. Anyway, the point is that the Royals are paying close to $26M for their bullpen as it stands today.

Many people have noted that's a lot to pay for a bullpen. That's probably 25% of the payroll or thereabouts. To get a better sense of how this all fits in to the big picture, I went to FanGraphs' projections. The table below shows the projected value and innings for each player. Note that "Guy" encompasses multiple players.

Name Projected Value Projected Innings
Greg Holland 2.0 65
Wade Davis 1.5 65
Kelvin Herrera 0.9 55
Luke Hochevar 0.5 55
Jason Frasor 0.2 45
Tim Collins 0.0 45
Louis Coleman 0.0 35
Guy 0.0 159
Total 5.1 524

The projections see some heavy regression for the HDH trio, which really isn't that surprising. Those guys were lights out last year. At some point, the lights will become dim instead of completely off. If I'm not mistaken, the innings projections take into account possible missed time due to injuries and/or ineffectiveness.

Now then, see that the bullpen is projected for 5.1 wins. FanGraphs has 4.9 wins projected and assumes some negative value will be accrued by the randos of "Guy". That's fine, but Aaron Crow isn't here anymore. I'll be optimistic. Let's call it 5 wins since decimals are lame.

For an interesting comparison, I'll compare the bullpen to Max Scherzer. Scherzer, a premier arm in free agency, is projected for 189 innings and 3.7 fWAR. Scherzer turned down an alleged 6 year, $144M offer from the Tigers, which means he thinks he can get more. That's a $24M AAV. Let's say that Scherzer can get something like 7/$175M. That's over the FanGraphs crowdsourced projections, but it seems like teams are throwing money around wildly this offseason. I don't think 7/$175M is a crazy estimate. It's a $25M AAV.

For 2015, that leaves Scherzer's $/WAR calculation at about $6.8M. The Royals, with their $25,750,000 for a ballparked 5 fWAR, are then at about $5.2M $/WAR. That's not adjusted for innings, though. I'll try to do that.

Scherzer is at 3.9 fWAR/200 innings. That's $6.4M per win per 200 innings. The Royals bullpen is at 1.9 fWAR/200 innings. That's $13.6M per win per 200 innings. The Royals are paying a premium for a ridiculously durable average starter. That average starter will throw more than twice the innings at half the talent level, but here's the thing. That fictional average starter can lose an arm and still pitch. That fictional average starter can lose an arm and a leg and still pitch. I'll assume that Max Scherzer could not pitch if he lost a limb. I'll wait to make a 100% firm conclusion on that until it happens. Let's hope it doesn't happen.

Even though the actual fWAR/200 innings is less, the Royals have placed some dollar value on spreading around the risk. $7.2M per win per 200 innings is the difference from the two numbers above. Is that the price of durability and/or spreading around risk? I don't think the calculations are this simple. Opportunity cost isn't fully considered, like the cost of signing both Ervin Santana and Brandon McCarthy compared to the bullpen cost and value or the cost of trading a reliever. Etc. Etc.

My point is this. Though the Royals are spending a lot of money on the bullpen, ACE money, they're spreading it around to multiple pitchers. If one guy goes down, they haven't lost their entire $26M investment. If Scherzer goes down, that money will be sitting around near a fireplace being burnt to a crisp along with marshmallows.

Money s'mores.