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A Tale of Two Bullpens


I’m a realistic fan. I know that this team has its deficiencies. We play Jason Kendall too often. Jose Guillen would have been a nice candidate for salary-eating release (though okay, that one has kind of worked out so far). The offense hits too many singles, the pitching staff allows too many walks.

So it’s not unusual to find myself lusting after what other teams have. A few examples:

Check out this table that compares two bullpens:

Bullpen A3.062.45/1
Bullpen B5.181.46/1

To be clear, Bullpen B is Kansas City’s bullpen. That’s pretty gross, right? I sure would rather have Bullpen A. Thankfully, Bullpen A is also Kansas City’s bullpen.

No, you didn’t just hear a record scratch – both of those statements are true. Here’s the difference between the two: May 13th. That, you may remember, was the last game Trey Hillman managed for the Royals. He’s on the hook for Bullpen B. Bullpen A is the post-Hillman bullpen.

I hate to attribute all of the success to Ned Yost. Hillman was hampered by some awful talent, including Luis Mendoza, a wild (and injured) Juan Cruz, an ineffective Josh Rupe and Roman Colon, who ended up closer to Osaka than Omaha.

But then check out some player comparisons (each pairing plays a similar role in their respective bullpen):

Veteran relieverERAK/BB
Reliever A2.514.6/1
Reliever B3.142.2/1
Late-inning setupERAK/BB
Reliever A3.723.4/1
Reliever B5.571.2/1
Left-handed specialistERAK/BB
Reliever A3.203.3/1
Reliever B3.951/1
Reliever A2.706.5/1
Reliever B3.865.5/1

The above tables represent the ERAs of (in order) Kyle Farnsworth, Robinson Tejeda, Dusty Hughes and Joakim Soria on May 13 (B) and on June 25 (A). The K/BB ratios are from April 5 – May 13 in all the B cases, and from May 14 to today in the A cases. These four relievers represent the most prominent overlapping of the two managerial epochs, and it’s clear that Ned Yost is getting the best of times from his workhorses.

While he’s benefited from the introduction of Victor Marte, Blake Wood and Kanekoa Texeira in place of Brad Thompson, Bryan Bullington and the same flotsam that Hillman had to work with, Yost has either been lucky to preside over a new aggressive bullpen, or he’s been the source of change. Combined, Soria et al had a 58/31 K/BB ratio under Hillman in 2010. Under Yost since h took over, they’ve combined for a 54/13 K/BB ratio. There’s a clear difference in those walk-rates, and I can’t deny the small sample sizes of six weeks apiece, but I do think there’s an effect from Yost’s direction.

One of the attributes I read about when Yost was hired was his reliance and faith in defined roles in the bullpen. For the current personnel, those roles are working. Texeira and Marte work the long-relief roles, Farnsworth comes in to chew up innings and to spell Tejeda and Wood if they need a day off. Hughes gets a little bit of long-relief but also comes in when the tough lefties are at the plate. Soria, of course, closes. And it’s working. Yost’s vision of the bullpen fits his personnel and puts them in the roles best suited to their abilities.

Maybe it’s Yost’s experience in the game in the 80’s. Maybe it’s because he was a catcher. Maybe Hillman simply lost the clubhouse so early in the season that a new manager was enough to inspire the bullpen to step up. You also can’t ignore a difference in talent, as Bullington, Thompson and Rupe are fine for covering DL stints and in small doses, but there’s a reason they were brought in on minor-league deals in their late-20s. They aren’t very good.

Now Marte and Texeira aren’t going to set the world on fire and beyond Tejeda or Wood, I wouldn’t trust anybody else to fill in if Soria got injured. But the pre-Hillman crew was a mess. Heck, even Bullpen A could have better numbers if you take out the 2 inning, 6 run outing by Thompson at Boston and the 1.2 inning 3 ER performance by Bullington in Kansas City against Colorado. Take those 3.2 innings out and Bullpen A’s ERA improves to 2.45.

Call me crazy, but maybe Yost reads Kings of Kauffman

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