Swapping Speed for Speed


This morning, the Royals announced that beloved speedster and quote magician* Jarrod Dyson will be sent to Omaha, where he will fill the roster spot shoes of Greg Holland. Holland, in turn, will be making his triumphant return to the Kansas City bullpen. While many, including myself, thought Holland might have a shot to start the season in the majors, he has instead seen some further AAA seasoning as the Royals’ bullpen toiled.

*”That’s what speed do.”

The move surprised me at first, but I quickly realized the reasoning behind this and what Royals management may have been thinking.

I love watching Dyson play as much as the next guy. It’s hard to find speed like Dyson’s. Seeing him dash around the bases like a blue Flash has been one of the fun points of the beginning of the season. There have been a few times where having him on base has allowed the Royals to score one more run than they might have without him, which helps when 16 of their 42 games so far have been decided by one run. It can definitely make a difference.

A few other folks have mentioned this in other circles, but I want to reiterate it here. Having that speed is wonderful and can definitely contribute a lot to the team, but unless the team is winning most of its games, that talent can go unharnessed. It just isn’t as useful in the long run to have a guy that’s mostly used for running when the team isn’t close enough in games to use that talent to their advantage. Or, rather, when winning isn’t going for the team, that extra three to five wins such a player might help the team earn don’t really help them achieve too much.

Of course, that’s not saying that the Royals won’t pick it back up and finish strong. It’s just saying that right now, the need isn’t so much for foot speed and baserunning acumen, but rather for pitch speed and pitcher ability.

The Royals have been blessed with a youthful bullpen that’s been giving them everything it can to this point. The starters have averaged 5.7 innings per outing to this point, leaving the bullpen to clean up 143.2 innings to this point in the season. With the rookie and young arms in the bullpen right now, such a load can become fairly taxing. Being out there in successive nights with any frequency may be a fairly new experience for these guys. It all starts to pile up after a while and it becomes easy to simply wear out the seven relievers.

Add on the fact that eight of the Royals’ 42 games have gone to extra innings, totalling 17 additional frames (through 42 games in 2010, they had just five long games, adding just eight innings), and the bullpen has been out there more than any team would want. With the recent carousel of starters due to injuries, there have been more short outings by the rotation than earlier in the season, forcing Yost to send out the relievers even more. And, as Bob Dutton says, Nathan Adcock will be making his first start in the majors this weekend. He’ll be limited to 60-65 pitches, which will probably put him around the four- or five-inning mark. Just another night for a taxed bullpen.

So, while I love watching Dyson play, his worth is just not as great when the team isn’t winning and the bullpen is stretched too thin. He has a grand total of 29 plate appearances this season, during which he has four hits. None of them have been for extra bases. While he’s walked four times, he’s also struck out eight times. Since he gets such a small amount of playing time, that’s not really that important, but it also suggests that the Royals aren’t exactly losing a hot bat.

While Dyson may help with the occasional run that might not have scored without his blazing speed, the Royals need to be especially concerned about their ability to keep opposing runners off the basepaths. Allowing 205 runs in 384.1 innings isn’t the worst thing in the world. When the bats have been slumping a bit lately, however, it becomes important. Decreasing the scoring rate of the Royals’ opponent suddenly takes an even higher importance.

Enter Holland, whose 2.88 K/BB ratio last season would be the best of the Royals’ pitching staff in 2011. While he gave up 15 runs in 18.2 innings in 2010, taking out one appearance changes that to nine earned runs in 16.1 innings, or an ERA of 4.96. While not great, for a first season, it’s not the end of the world either. And in 21.2 innings with Omaha this year, he’s struck out 27 and given up five runs. That K/9 rate of 11.2 would be the best on the Royals staff, though we have to allow for adjustment between the minors and majors, of course.

Holland comes in having thrown about 1.1 innings per outing for the Royals in 2010 and 1.2 with Omaha this season. While that’s not a huge number, he has similar versatility to Louis Coleman in that he can give you a couple innings if you need it. When the bullpen is out there as much as it has been lately, every bit helps. And Holland can help this bullpen get through the long outings it’s had to endure lately. With a heater that averages around 96 mph and a curve that can be downright nasty, he can be another successful young reliever for these Royals.

A word of warning: Holland can walk batters with regularity at times. He has a walk rate of 4.6/9 innings with Omaha this season (11 walks in 21.2 IP). When he got to Kansas City last season, he walked eight batters in his first 12 innings. It can happen. The silver lining? In his next eight outings, or 6.2 IP, after that initial stretch, he didn’t walk a single batter and struck out 13.

Can Holland help this bullpen? You betcha. He can hopefully take some pressure off of Tim Collins, who has pitched in 24 of the Royals’ 42 games so far. And Holland, Aaron Crow, and Louis Coleman make a formidable set of righties for opponents to face late in games. This should only make things better for the Royals’ pitching staff.

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