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The bullpen is going to drag this team down for a while

2019 will be more of the same

St Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals
Wily Peralta #43 of the Kansas City Royals looks down after giving up a two run home run during the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium on August 12, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

The Kansas City Royals have lost 98 games, which is impressive considering that they still have a few weeks left in this season. That being said, the Royals have been a completely different team before and after the All-Star break. In the first half of the season, the Royals put up an unsightly .284 winning percentage, a 116-loss pace over a full season. But after the break the Royals have won at a .463 clip, an 87-loss place over the course of a full season.

They have done so not by mere fluke, but by an entirely different approach to roster construction. Since August, the Royals have jettisoned their old, underperforming veterans and instead replaced them with younger, better players. Alcides Escobar’s shortstop time has gone to the exciting Adalberto Mondesi, Lucas Duda is entirely gone in favor of the much better Ryan O’Hearn, Jason Hammel has been all but banished from the team in favor of a collection of young guys, and Blaine Boyer, Justin Grimm, Ryan Goins, and Abraham Almonte are simply gone.

So there has been some hope that next year could be a significant step forward, despite there not being particular correlation between second half success and the following year’s record. Certainly, even 75 wins next year would be an extraordinary accomplishment considering how many losses this year’s team has garnered.

And, sure. A resurgent Danny Duffy, continued development of Mondesi, O’Hearn, Brad Keller, and Hunter Dozier, and a full year of Jorge Soler would improve the team greatly. But even if they do, which is no guarantee, there is still going to be one problem with the Royals, one that only Shiva could fix, is the many-armed monstrosity of the Kansas City bullpen.

There is simply no way that the bullpen is good enough next year to cover the team’s flaws. And before you try to argue your way out of that one, take a step back and remember what a good bullpen was like.

In 2014, the Royals had:

  • Greg Holland, 1.44 ERA, 37.5 K%, 2.5 bWAR
  • Wade Davis, 1.00 ERA, 39.1 K%, 3.7 bWAR
  • Kelvin Herrera, 1.41 ERA, 20.7 K%, 2.8 bWAR

While a look back at the Big Three’s supporting cast is not very pretty—Aaron Crow was not good, Louis Coleman essentially pitched his way out of Kansas City, and Francisely Bueno was their best lefty—that’s nitpicking a bit because the Big Three was really freaking good. If the Royals had a lead after the sixth inning of any regular season game, you were finished. Done. And if Ned Yost decided to use the big three earlier, like he started to in the postseason, you were even more done, but earlier.

In 2015, the Royals had:

  • Wade Davis, 0.92 ERA, 31.1 K%, 3.5 bWAR
  • Kelvin Herrera, 2.71 ERA, 22.4 K%, 1.4 bWAR
  • Luke Hochevar, 3.73 ERA, 22.9 K%, 0.3 bWAR
  • Ryan Madson, 2.13 ERA, 23.4 K%, 1.7 bWAR
  • Franklin Morales, 3.18 ERA, 15.9 K%, 0.8 bWAR

The Royals had a version of Holland before he succumbed to Tommy John surgery, but toward the end of the year they had a four-deep cabal of guys who could get righties and lefties out and strike out over one fifth of all batters they faced and a lefty who simply did his job without fanfare. There really wasn’t much filler.

Obviously, this year has seen some more aggressive turnover. But just looking at guys on the Royals’ team now that are reasonable bets to make the team next year and spend a majority of it in the bullpen, they’ve got:

  • Tim Hill, 4.54 ERA, 22.1 K%, -0.2 bWAR
  • Kevin McCarthy, 3.18 ERA, 15.0 K%, 1.0 WAR
  • Brian Flynn, 5.58 ERA, 13.9 K%, 0.4 bWAR
  • Burch Smith, 5.50 ERA, 23 K%, -1.0 bWAR*
  • Wily Peralta, 4.13 ERA, 24 K%, 0.2 bWAR
  • Brandon Maurer, 7.94 ERA, 19 K%, -0.9 bWAR
  • Jason Adam, 6.12 ERA, 26.1 K%, -0.3 bWAR

*WAR figure is starting and relieving, others are relieving only

Granted, Adam isn’t on the team at the moment, and guys like Scott Barlow, Jake Newberry, and Glenn Sparkman are, but...this is not a good group. This is, in fact, a very bad group.

Last night, the Pittsburgh Pirates walked off the Royals and Ben Lively, who wore the loss. If you are not sure who Lively is, that is ok. He has been with the Royals for two weeks. He is not good. That’s why he was available to pick up for nothing. And, sadly, he’s probably an improvement over the likes of Adam and Maurer right now.

The pitching win is a poor stat, but it can sometimes offer information. This is true regarding losses by bullpen pitchers, because it’s generally a signal that they blew the game. The Royals have lost seven games since the start of September. Of those, a bullpen arm earned the loss in five of those, and miraculously it has been a different guy in each one: Lively yesterday, Jerry Vasto on September 16, Burch Smith on September 12, Jason Hammel on September 9, and Glenn Sparkman on September 7.

The Royals are going to lose more games than they win next year, and a big reason why is because of the bullpen. And there isn’t likely to be any help outside Richard Lovelady and, if you squint really hard, maybe Josh Staumont. Part of the reason why the Royals’ bullpen this year has been so bad is precisely because it is filled with a bunch of replacement level upper minors talent.

Look: the Royals are going to be bad for as long as they pick up random pitchers cast off from other organizations becuase their own organization guys aren’t good enough. The rest of the team could be really interesting next year. Just...not the pen.