Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals' Bullpen is Back to Pitching Like the Royals' Bullpen

It’s kind of funny how quickly things can change. About a week ago, the Royals’ bullpen was struggling to throw strikes, struggling to get batters out, and struggling to prevent runs from scoring. Instead of a bullpen car, Royals’ relievers were riding the struggle bus. Many fans were starting to worry that the bullpen may not be as good as we’ve been led to believe. Through the team’s first 9 games, the bullpen had pitched 23 innings, allowed 18 runs to score (15 earned runs), walked 14, and struck out 23. If rate stats are more your thing, their ERA was 5.87, they had a BB/9 of 5.48, and a K/9 of 9.

Since that time, the Royals’ bullpen has done quite a bit better. In the last 7 games, they’ve thrown 17.1 innings, allowed 2 runs to score (0 earned runs), walked 7, and struck out 27. That comes out to a cool 0.00 ERA, 3.63 BB/9, and 14.02 K/9. The pen doing “quite a bit better” may have been a slight understatement on my part.

Royals’ relievers haven’t surrendered a run of any kind since the debacle in Minnesota last Sunday. From that point on, they’ve basically been lights-out.

Thanks to this most recent stretch of dominance, the bullpen’s season stats have now started to come back toward the mean (weird how that happens). As it currently stands, the relievers have pitched 40.1 innings with a 3.35 ERA (83 ERA-) and a 2.30 FIP (60 FIP-). They’ve struck out 11.16 batters per 9 innings, and they’ve walked 4.69 batters per 9 innings. They’ve yet to allow a home run all season, and they haven’t even been facing Royals’ hitters. Among all teams, only the Braves and Red Sox have posted lower adjusted FIPs. Only the Braves have struck out opposing batters at a higher rate. Early-season WAR numbers don’t mean a whole lot, but only the Red Sox have a more valuable bullpen thus far.

In other words, even taking into account the first several games, the Royals’ bullpen has been very good.

Obviously, the pen won’t continue at this current pace. I have a sinking suspicion that at some point, they will allow another run. They may even allow 2 or 3 runs to score, surprising as that may sound. Luckily for the Royals, I’d expect the rest of the season to look much more like the last 7 games than the first 9 games.

One area in which the Royals still have a chance to improve is their strand rate. They currently have a LOB% of 63.5%, which is quite a bit lower than the league average. It’s been 100% in the last 5 days, which tells you all you need to know about how low it was before that. A team’s strand rate is something that tends to hang around the league average, and those outliers that are not within  a reasonable range will usually be attributed to luck, good and bad. Once the Royals’ strand rate starts to normalize, we will likely see their run prevention numbers get even better.

I’m certainly not going to predict the bullpen to duplicate their absurd stats from last season, but this is a unit that is filled with talented arms, and there are even more talented arms waiting in Omaha. Despite their early struggles, we had to know this bullpen would get it together. They’re too good to pitch that poorly for long.

Greg Holland is one of the best closers in the game. Wade Davis has been an electric reliever in the past. Kelvin Herrera can make hitters look silly with a 100 MPH fastball or an 88 MPH changeup. While Danny Duffy should probably be moved back to the rotation soon, he’s shown command of an upper-90s fastball and his curveball. Michael Mariot and Louis Coleman have great sliders and can miss a ton of bats. And because of the first few guys I mentioned, Mariot and Coleman won’t be able to throw all that many innings.

The Royals’ bullpen is stacked. They’re a bullpen, so of course there may be more struggles, but the team has a significant amount of talent out there, and I think we’re finally starting to see them pitch like the Royals’ bullpen we expected to see.

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