Royals’ Bullpen Boosts Playoff Hopes


It should come as no surprise to you that the biggest reason for the Royals’ recent success is their pitching. Sure, some parts of the offense seem to be coming around, but the second half ERA of 2.35 has certainly been the key to the 15-4 run the Royals are currently on. The starters have combined to post a 2.66 ERA in 121.2 innings, which is obviously very respectable. However, the bullpen has been even better.

Since the All-Star Break, the Royals’ pen has an ERA of 1.77 over 66 innings. Kansas City relievers have also accumulated 74 strikeouts in the second half, good for a K/9 of 10.09. They have a BB/9 of 2.45 in that same timeframe. Those peripherals help add up to a great FIP(2.33 entering Wednesday), meaning they haven’t needed to rely on the defense to pick them up. Even when hitters do reach base – a rare occurrence, with a WHIP of 1.05 – the Royals bullpen is leaving them there, to the tune of a 83.3% strand rate.

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Since presenting data from just 66 innings may be setting off your Small Sample Size Alert siren, allow me to present a more complete picture.

In the entire 2013 season, the Royals’ bullpen has an ERA of 2.80, which is, you guessed it, the best in the American League. The pen has a K/9 of 9.17 and a BB/9 of 3.27, which gives them the third best K/BB rate in the league at 2.80. Royals’ relievers have a combined WHIP of 1.20, the third best number in the league. They have a strand rate of 80.9%, which is the second best percentage in the AL.

You may be noticing a consistent theme here, which I will sum up thusly (while keeping it family friendly):

The Royals’ bullpen has been (bleeping) nails.

If there’s one thing Dayton Moore has proven he is capable of doing, it’s building a quality bullpen. There are several guys that many other teams would love to have as their closer, and the Royals are able to use them in middle relief. Obviously the headliner is Greg Holland, who is having a historic season in his first full year as the closer. Only a handful of pitchers have posted better strikeout rates than him in the last decade, and going back to 2000, only 2 pitchers have had seasons with better FIPs: Craig Kimbrel last season (0.78) and Eric Gagne in 2003 (0.86). Holland is currently sitting at a FIP of 1.27 with a 1.64 ERA, meaning he actually should have even better results. I could write a novel on how incredible Holland has been this year, but I’ll just use this tweet, posted after Holland allowed one runner to reach in the 9th last night, to try to sum up how good he’s been:

Beyond their All-Star closer, the Royals have gotten a lot of outstanding innings from several other pitchers. Luke Hochevar has a 1.65 ERA and a K/BB of 3.31 in 43.2 innings. Aaron Crow has a K/9 of 8.10 and is getting groundballs better than 50% of the time. Tim Collins is striking out 23.6% of the batters he faces and has been pitching extremely well lately. Even Kelvin Herrera, who’s been bitten by the long ball far too often this season, is striking out a ton of batters and stranding baserunners at a great clip. But the guy I’ve been most impressed with recently is Louis Coleman.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Coleman has been racking up plenty of I-29 Express Rewards Points in the last couple of years, but his season thus far is showing he really doesn’t want to go back to Omaha. In 16.1 innings, Coleman has faced 56 batters and struck out 19 of them. That K% of 33.9 would be the 11th best rate in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify. Also among those 56 batters, Coleman has walked 2 and allowed 7 hits. Zero runs have scored on him. No matter how you look at it, Coleman has been tremendous.

I could take the time here to question why Moore chose to leave Coleman off the opening day roster in favor of J.C. Gutierrez for the sole purpose of “maintaining inventory,” despite Coleman being a better option, but the Royals did win last night, so I won’t mention it.

(I will, however, point out that Coleman already has 2 more strikeouts than Gutierrez had, while Coleman has pitched 13 fewer innings and faced 64 fewer batters.)

The Royals’ bullpen, as was expected coming into the season, is among the best in baseball. This team has 22 one-run wins, tied for the most in baseball, and that number is due in large part to having such a quality pen. They have the best closer in the game, along with a number of other terrific power arms that Ned Yost can call upon when needed. And with this rotation, the relievers haven’t been needed as often as in past years, which should help keep everyone fresh as the team heads down the stretch run, in hopes of climbing into a playoff spot.