The Kansas City Royals were all kinds of bad in 2018. There is no denying that. They ranked 25th in the MLB in runs scored, 27th in runs allowed, and wound up with the second worst record in baseball. With all of that being said, it didn’t FEEL like that was the second worst team in baseball. Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn actually made the team fun to watch in September, and I think that trend will continue in 2019, because the bullpen should be worlds better.
Let’s break down some notable departures from the horrid 2018 bullpen that we are 99% sure won’t be back in 2019:
- Blaine Boyer: -1.8 bWAR
- Jason Hammel: -1.6 bWAR (though, yes, lots of that was in the rotation)
- Justin Grimm: -1.4 bWAR
- Brandon Maurer: -1.2 bWAR
- Enny Romero: -0.6 bWAR
- Eric Stout: -0.4 bWAR
- Kelvin Herrera: 1.4 bWAR
That is -5.6 wins departing the Royals bullpen, if you buy into the idea of WAR (bWAR, or Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, is my preferred site for pitchers). That doesn’t include, by the way, Burch Smith and his -1.2 bWAR. Burch HAD to stay in the Royals bullpen last year because he was a Rule 5 selection. I have a feeling he won’t get as much leeway in 2019.
Take 7-8 losses from that putrid 2018 bullpen and you’re looking at a team that finishes 65-97 instead of finishing with 104 losses. All you have to do is replace an awful bullpen with AVERAGE relievers, and you would (theoretically) have 7-8 more wins in the win column.
Now imagine if the Royals find a few more Kevin McCarthy’s to add to the bullpen. Not great, but incredibly serviceable arms that post just 1 bWAR out of the bullpen for the 2019 season. Add another 4-5 wins to the win column and your’re looking at a team that wins 69-70 games. All we had to do to fix that problem was not have the worst bullpen in the history of, like, ever.
Of course, it’s never that easy. The Royals, still in a time of rebuilding, will surely take fliers on more veterans like Justin Grimm and Blaine Boyer to see if they can’t strike gold, not worrying about the negative repercussions during what seems to be another lost season coming up. They just recently signed journeyman Michael Ynoa to a minor league deal, and he surely won’t be the only flier the Royals take this off-season.
Then again, the Royals have also been rumored to be in the market for something of a big name reliever as well. Replace Kelvin Herrera with another Kelvin Herrera-like reliever and the bullpen will only continue to improve. Then there’s one (two) other thing...
Richard Lovelady and Josh Staumont have been really good out of the bullpen over their past couple of minor league seasons. After settling in at the AAA ranks this spring, Richard Lovelady finished his 2018 campaign with an ERA of 1.10 in his final 41 IP in which he posted 41 K and only 7 BB. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. He is a top 10 Royals prospect in the eyes of many who follow the club closely, and he will certainly be in the big league bullpen on Opening Day. You wanna talk about adding a Kevin McCarthy, there’s one (Lovelady will probably be way better than just 1 bWAR).
Staumont is a little bit of a more curious case. Staumont posted an ERA of 3.51 in 74.1 IP at Omaha in 2018 and posted 103 K (WOW) and 52 BB (ow). The fastball sits in the upper-90’s and his curveball is probably the single best off-speed pitch in the entire organization. He just has a really hard time controlling the baseball. Staumont dominated AAA over the first couple months of the season. After his third start on June 8th, Staumont’s ERA sat at 1.59 through 34 IP and he was striking out over 12 batters per 9 IP. After June 8, however, that ERA bubbled to 5.13 and the BB/9 bubbled from the mid-fives to up over seven. Not the development that the Royals front office wanted to see, I’m sure.
If the Royals do in fact some sort of big-name reliever, and do in fact bring up Richard Lovelady and Josh Staumont to begin the season, this bullpen is going to look really good. Kevin McCarthy and Wily Peralta held their own in 2018, and guys like Jake Newberry and Glenn Sparkman made good impressions in brief stints out of the big league ‘pen. I’m not trying to imply that these additions will actually add eight wins to the Royals ledger in 2019 on their own, but, I’m not saying they won’t either.