Kelvin Herrera is gone, which officially marks the end of the “HDH” era. For years, Royals fans have been used to a dominant bullpen that shut the door with any kind of lead late in the game.
But those days are over. Ned Yost must now manage without a safety net, without the comforting feeling of knowing he can point to the pen and bring in someone nasty who straight up shoots plumes of fire out of his arm.
Instead he must gaze out into the bullpen upon some pretty unfamiliar faces, spin the wheel of fortune, and take his chances with whoever emerges from that bullpen door. Most likely, the Royals could go through several candidates before they settle upon anyone. But who should get first crack? Here are some candidates.
Maurer has 35 career Major League saves, more than anyone else on the current roster. He was 22 of 26 in converting save opportunities in 2017 between the Padres and Royals. Maurer has put up pretty good FIP numbers the last few years, vastly outperforming his ERA. He has the ability to miss bats, having struck out over a hitter-per-inning over the last three seasons.
There is just one issue - Maurer is completely terrible at pitching. And to be a good closer, one prerequisitive is typically that you are pretty good at pitching. Maurer has a 9.24 in 25 1⁄3 innings since the Royals acquired him with a high walk and home run rate. Just 19 of his 33 career outings in a Royals uniform (57%) have been scoreless outings. Compare that to the man he would replace. In 2017, a year in which Kelvin Herrera struggled, 73% of his outings were scoreless. This year, it was 89%.
Brandon Maurer has the experience, the stuff, and a salary that the Royals would probably like to justify, so it seems likely he would get first crack at the role. But he may not have it for long if he continues to pitch like he has in Royals blue.
Adam is not currently on the roster, having been sent down on Sunday, and he would have to stay down for ten days unless he replaces someone injured. But it is not hard seeing him taking on the closing role soon, as he looked impressive in flashes in his first 15 1⁄3 Major League innings. Adam sports a mid-90s fastball and the best strikeout rate on the team, getting 25% of opponents to whiff. He has the highest swinging strike rate on the team now that Herrera is gone.
Adam does have a home run problem, having given up six dongs in limited action. He was also a minor league free agent who was let go last summer, but relievers often take weird career paths, and Adam wouldn’t be the first reliever to go from unemployed to elite status in a matter of months.
Smith has a fastball in the mid-90s and is second on the pitching staff in strikeouts-per-nine innings. If you squint, you can kind of see the stuff and swagger a closer might need. But he is a Rule 5 pick with a 7.21 ERA. Probably not gonna happen.
Lovelady is not currently on the roster, but he is considered one of the organization’s top prospects and should be ready for Major League action soon. The lefty dominated minor league action with a 1.62 ERA across High A and AA, but has regressed a bit this year with a 3.75 ERA, with a lower strikeout rate (8.8 per-nine innings) and higher walk rate (3.5 per-nine innings). Lovelady could be a victim of Werner Park in Omaha - his road ERA is 1.06 with much better peripheral numbers. However, it seems unlikely he would go straight from the minors to the closer’s role to make his Major League debut. That goes for any other minor league candidate as well, like Josh Staumont (who is back to starting), Kevin Lenik, Jake Newberry, or Yunior Marte.
Well how many save opportunities do you really expect this year anyway? The idea of having one person pitch the ninth to protect a lead may be going away with modern bullpen usage. Teams mix and match based on matchups now, often times using their best reliever before the ninth inning.
It might just be best for the Royals to avoid clear cut roles for a bit, until they can sort out their unfamiliar cast. Ride the hot hand, play the matchups, put the pitchers in the best opportunity to suceed (which may mean leaving Blaine Boyer in the parking lot to drive the bus).
Steven St. John of 810 WHB kinda had the right idea.
Who should be the Royals new closer?— Steven St.John (@SSJWHB) June 19, 2018
You, sitting there reading this, warm up!
Who should be the new Royals closer?
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