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Ingredients for the next great bullpen

Reinventing the past’s biggest strength

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Chicago Cubs Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The backbone of the most recently successful Royals teams is well known as the bullpen. While the three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland known as “HDH” was the most notable part of the recipe for success, there were several forgotten arms behind them that also deserve credit. When teams would face the 2014 and 2015 teams, they all knew that if they didn’t get their runs early on, then there would be almost no opportunity to do so going forward. The Royals’ championship blueprint was much different than most other winners of the past, but it got the job done and led to some remarkable comebacks over those two years.

The Royals of today have gone the opposite route by having more starting pitcher prospects than they have ever had at one time. They anticipate that if at least two or three of them can live up to their expectations, then the rest of the team will be able to fall into place. The current batting lineup can hold their ground and the anticipated addition of at least three promising young hitting prospects will likely bolster it even more. This hopeful scenario leaves one question mark for our future, the bullpen.

While the relief staff of the past was dominated by the presence of Herrera, Davis, and Holland, the less known arms were very instrumental in rounding out the bullpen and allowed those great Royals teams to stay in every single game. Pitchers such as Tim Collins, Jason Frasor, Kris Medlen, and Ryan Madson to name a few, were able to hold off the opponents in the games that the starters couldn’t get through the six innings.

The current staff shows a very solid foundation of Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, and Jake Brentz. To take the next step, this team will need to complement these arms through their current resources and likely free agency. Let’s base our assumptions for the ideal bullpen to have seven arms, just like the past two World Series teams. With the three names above locked in, that leaves four final spots with a lot of options to choose from to build the ideal bullpen.

Some of the options are as follows.

Internal options

Domingo Tapia – He posted a 2.84 ERA over 31.2 innings pitched in 2021 and showed that he was not scared of high-leverage moments.

Kyle Zimmer – While his numbers on the year were not impressive, in his first 30 appearances on the season, Zimmer produced a 2.45 ERA while holding his opponents to a .179 batting average. If he can look like this again, he most definitely deserves a shot in this pen.

Jackson Kowar – While his numbers did not impress anyone in his first season, his changeup when used effectively certainly showed potential. Once he gets his nerves settled in the bigs, his fastball and changeup combo (together thrown 85.7% of the time) could be better suited in relief rather than as a starter.

Dylan Coleman – Although the rookie only appeared in relief five times to end off the season, his ability was already on full display. He relies on his fastball and slider, and out of the 65 fastballs he threw this season, the average velocity on them was remarkably 98.2 MPH.

Ronald Bolaños – Injuries only allowed Bolaños to appear in three games this season, but he was able to show the use of five different pitches and some serious heat on his fastball and sinker as well.

Free agents

Andrew Chafin – In 71 games this season for the Cubs and the Athletics, Chafin had a 1.83 ERA and showed the use of three pitches, a sinker, 4-Seam, and slider. Out of 517 sliders and 4-seams thrown on the year, opponents only hit .132 against them.

Kendall Graveman – He relies mostly on his sinker (thrown 62.9% of the time) but can throw four other pitches as well. He throws high velocity and posted a 1.77 era across 56 innings of relief in 2021.

Brad Hand – The three-time All-Star was a little worse than his standard in terms of ERA last year at 3.90 in 68 appearances, but he has been very successful in the past five years relying on a slider, fastball, and a sinker.

The Kansas City Royals have a lot of options that they can use to build their next great bullpen, many of which were not even mentioned here. If they are serious about competing, then they will have to make the necessary moves to improve all areas of the team and should spend some money in free agency on even more relief choices. While they have several capable pitchers already within the franchise, signing at least one other established reliever could truly raise this bullpen to the next level.