Even though the Royals didn’t play a game yesterday, there were still a few bits of news that came out that I found pretty surprising. I suppose I could have titled this post “Surprising News & Notes from Surprise,” but then again, that’s a really lame title, even by my standards. The first piece of news was that Yordano Ventura had not been given the 2014 American League Cy Young award yet, although I’m sure that was probably just a paperwork issue for the league office. It’s spring training for interns, too, after all. The second revelation was something I mentioned in this post, that the Royals were considering Danny Duffy to be a part of the competition for the final bullpen spot on the Opening Day roster.
Duffy has mentioned that he thinks he would succeed in a relief role, and while I tend to agree, it would be foolish for the Royals to take a young pitcher with that kind of potential, and use him in a way that limits his value to the team. Obviously it’s possible that Duffy never figures it out as a starter, and it’s possible he eventually must be shifted to the bullpen in order to be effective. However, Duffy has only 157.1 innings under his belt in the big leagues, so he still has quite a bit of time before the book is written on him. The best course of action would be for the Royals to send Duffy to the Omaha rotation, where he can continue working on his slider, while also refining his command. I do think the team knows this, and I do think that is the move they will make, which is why I found Ned Yost‘s comments strange. Duffy could help the 2014 Royals as a reliever, but he could probably make a bigger impact in 2014 and beyond out of the rotation.
Speaking of that final bullpen spot, many people – myself included – have been assuming that Francisley Bueno would be kept on the big league club, since he is without options, while Donnie Joseph could be optioned to AAA. According to a note in this article from Jeffrey Flanagan, that may not be the case. Flanagan says that Joseph is the one with the inside track to be the second lefty out of the Royals’ bullpen, not Bueno. If that is the case, it would show the Royals are more concerned with having the best pitching staff possible, instead of worrying about maintaining inventory. That’s a good thing. Teams should be focused on having the best 25 man roster they can have, and that focus should be more prominent in an important season like the one the Royals are looking at in 2014. Also, the team doesn’t appear to be worried about losing Bueno, since they have designated him for assignment previously without him leaving the organization. Their bullpen is going to be good regardless, but if they can squeeze an extra win out of it, they could try to close that gap with the Tigers a bit more.
If Joseph is that last reliever, the strikeout ability that Yost can turn to in late innings is going to be, quite frankly, absurd. Consider this: the only pitcher who’s going to be in that hypothetical pen for the Royals this season who struck out fewer than 8.3 batters per 9 innings in 2013 is Wade Davis, and the last time he was a full-time reliever, he struck out over 11 batters per 9 innings. In other words, this bullpen will come in handy during those hot summer games at the K, because all of the swings and misses they’re going to get should be enough to fan the entire stadium and cool everyone down.
Staying in the bullpen, I noticed something while looking at Kelvin Herrera‘s Pitchf/x data from spring training this year. Not all stadiums in Arizona have the necessary equipment, so the numbers aren’t complete, but they do tell a story. Regardless, we all know Herrera for his electric fastball and filthy changeup. In 2013, fastballs and changeups made up about 92% of his pitch selection. But thus far in 2014, it appears Herrera may be working on his curveball a bit more. The sample size is small, but he’s thrown nearly as many curveballs (12) as changeups (14). On a percentage basis, he’s more than doubled his usage rate of the curveball since last year, at least in the games for which we have Pitchf/x data. That could be something to keep an eye on when the season opens. If Herrera does start mixing in a curveball with his other two devastating pitches, he’ll be able to give hitters something else to think about, which will give him more opportunities to make those hitters look absolutely silly.