The Royals, General Manager Dayton Moore, and Manager Ned Yost are feeling the heat after losing the series to Cleveland, thus falling even further back in the race for the division. They’re under a lot of pressure to succeed this year before practically the entire team flees elsewhere in the sport using free agency rules.
To that end one of the biggest areas of disappointment for the team to this point, especially recently, has been the bullpen’s inability to hold the leads the offense and starting rotation are able to provide to them. It’s time for a change, but not just any change. The Royals want you to help make this decision* through a poll that will be provided at the end of this post.
Before you vote it seems like now would a good time to go over the pros and cons of your options. Dayton Moore passed along to me that between financial and personnel constraints the team will not be able to add any outside help** so your options are going to be limited to those already in the Royals’ system. All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference before play on Saturday August 19.
Eighth Inning Contestants
|Almonte, Miguel (in AAA)
|Buchter, Ryan (for Royals)
|Cahill, Trevor (as starter for Padres & Royals)
|Feliz, Neftali (for Royals)
|Flynn, Brian (in AAA)
|Junis, Jake (as a starter and reliever)
|Lovelady, Richard (in AA)
|Maness, Seth (In AAA)
|Maurer, Brandon (for Royals)
|Selman, Sam (in AAA)
|Stout, Eric (in AAA)
The first thing you will note is that Joakim Soria is still listed as a contestant for this role. Even if you refuse to use him once he returns from the DL comparing his stats to the others should prove instructive to you.
The next thing you will note is that those stats don’t tell the entire story. If they did then a computer could do the job and the Royals wouldn’t need you. So here is a little context on each of these players:
Scott Alexander has been very good for the Royals, this year. Despite being a lefty he’s actually been better against righties so splits shouldn’t be an issue for him. He gets a lot of ground balls and strikeouts; you’d be losing his talents as a fireman and a long reliever if you put him in the eighth inning role. In high leverage appearance so far this season he’s allowed a .413 wOBA to opposing hitters which is very bad. He does have a 1.29 ERA during limited appearances in the eighth inning so far, this season.
Miguel Almonte has made two appearances for the big league club this year; they did not go well. After a terrible year in the minors in 2016 he was demoted to AA to start this season. He has bounced back nicely as a starter in AA and primarily as a reliever in AAA. The FIP is a bit scary and you’d like to see more strikeouts with his stuff in the minors.
Ryan Buchter has been very not good for the Royals since the trade. The same caveats for his overall stats still apply now as did when the Royals traded for him; he has a decent ERA but a terrible FIP and a negative fWAR. His results have been about equal between lefties and righties this year. In high pressure situations he allows only a .210 wOBA. He pitched in a setup role for San Diego this season and compiled a 3.32 ERA in the eighth inning.
Trevor Cahill has not pitched out of the bullpen this year but he was very good there for the world champion Cubs, last season. He pitched primarily in the seventh and eighth innings with a 1.23 ERA in the eighth inning. He allowed a not-great .351 wOBA in high leverage situations. He’s currently on the DL and will either not be available until September or would require the demotion of another reliever.
Neftali Feliz has a career 3.49 ERA as a reliever but hasn’t been worth even as much as half a win above replacement since 2012. His total ERA of 5.48 this year is actually slightly better than his 5.64 FIP. He has allowed 7 runs in his past 6 appearances. He has allowed a .569 wOBA in high leverage situations this season though only a 3.68 ERA in limited eighth inning opportunities. He’s also currently on the DL.
Brian Flynn, for the second year of the past three, has been stuck in AAA all season because he was injured early in the year when the Royals had room for him. He was a very effective reliever for the Royals, last season. He has a high season ERA in AAA but has a 2.84 ERA over his last 10 appearances, including 4 starts, that total 31.2 innings. Over that time he has struck out 31 with only 7 walks.
Kelvin Herrera is currently the Royals’ closer so if you choose him for the eighth inning role you’ll have to choose a new closer, too. Has been pitching much better of late and has lots of experience in a setup role. A demotion from the closer role to the eighth inning role might make him more comfortable by allowing him to pitch more often or it may upset him.
Jake Junis has actually been much better as a starter than a reliever for the Royals, this year. This is particularly true when Cam Gallagher catches him though that may not be an option any longer with the imminent return of Salvador Perez tentatively scheduled for Tuesday’s game. He has little experience as a reliever overall and none in the eighth inning.
Richard Lovelady has been turning heads with his performance and unique name in A+ an AA, so far this season. Choosing him would require making room on the 40-man roster. It would also require demoting another reliever unless you’re willing to wait until September to make the move.
Seth Maness didn’t look amazing when he got a shot to pitch in the big leagues earlier this year. He’s currently carrying a much too high ERA in AAA to be a viable option.
Brandon Maurer is Ned’s current choice for eighth inning man while Soria was hurt; this coincides with many people demanding this switch even before they knew of Soria’s injury. Four of his last five appearances have been in the eighth inning. Thusfar he has struck out 6 but has allowed 3 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks.
He does have experience as a closer, which is a plus, having closed out 20 games for the Padres earlier this year. He also has a very good season FIP but the actual results trail behind. He’s actually been almost decent in high leverage situations with a .318 wOBA but carries a 9.90 ERA in the eighth inning so far this season. He carries a 3.65 ERA in the ninth inning if you want to use him as your closer and let Herrera take over eighth inning duties.
Kevin McCarthy has the best ERA of any Royals reliever so far this year but he does it without striking out many. For what it’s worth he also does not walk many and despite pitching far fewer innings than many in the Royals pen is tied for fourth among the relievers in fWAR.
Mike Minor has been a welcome surprise for Royals fans this year who weren’t even sure they’d ever see him pitch for the big league club after injury setbacks kept him out all of last season. He has the highest strike out rate of anyone currently in the Royals pen with 10 or more innings pitched along with the second lowest walk rate. He has also allowed runs in six of his last eight appearances including finishing a blown save in Jack’s last game. His numbers spike in high leverage situations to a .357 wOBA though he does have a 1.69 ERA in his eighth inning appearances, this season.
Minor has had as many meltdown appearances (defined as having a Win Probability Added of -6% or less) this season as Soria but with only 14 shutdown appearances (WPA of 6% or more) to Soria’s 25.
Peter Moylan has been a lot like Soria this season in that when he allows runs he allows a lot of them. Many of his runs are allowed in lower pressure situations so he hasn’t taken as much heat. Moylan cannot hold down lefties at all. He does only allow a .263 wOBA in high leverage situations but has a 5.59 ERA in the eighth inning despite only allowing a .502 OPS.
Sam Selman has never pitched in the major leagues but has the best ERA of any Storm Chaser reliever this season minus the recently released Al Alburquerque. He walks a lot but he strikes out even more. Adding him to the roster would require clearing on the 40-man and demoting someone until September.
Joakim Soria is currently on the DL with a strained muscle in his side. There is currently no time-table for his return. He has the best overall numbers of any Royals’ reliever this season but his .287 wOBA in high leverage situations is his worst in that split category. Perhaps more problematic is the .343 wOBA once runners are in scoring position. If you pick Soria for your eighth inning man you will be saying that Ned Yost has been making the right choice all along. Do you really want to do that?
Eric Stout is just behind Selman in bullpen ERA for the Storm Chasers. He doesn’t strike out or walk as many and he doesn’t get groundballs. His FIP suggests that he’s over-performing his abilities right now which is not something you want to worry about when you promote him to the big leagues to pitch in high leverage situations for a playoff contender. His roster situation is the same as Selman and Lovelady.
You, of course, are permitted to choose any pitcher in the Royals’ system but the players listed above seem like the likely front-runners for the job. Unlike 2014-2016 there is no slam dunk answer for the eighth inning role. The Royals no longer have a Cyborg to do it or to close it and allow Herrera to handle it. But however long you’ve been watching baseball and the Royals you probably can’t screw this up any worse than Ned Yost has***. So give it a whirl and tell the Royals**** who should be pitching in the eighth inning for the rest of this season.
Which Royals reliever will you have pitch in the eighth inning?
This poll is closed
Some other player currently controlled by the Royals. (please indicate who in the comments below)
Forget the rules, I’m making a trade/signing a free agent. (please submit your trade proposal in the comments below)
*Not really, but maybe they’ll look at the results of this poll and make a change! You never know!
**Again, not really, but it seems like a safe bet that even if the Royals could make another move that it would not be to get anyone you’d want pitching in the eighth inning.
***Mostly because you’re not actually in any position to actually make any of your choices matter.
****Assuming they actually check this poll, which seems unlikely.