Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
We’re now on the 4th part of this 5 part series of posts outlining some New Year’s Resolutions for the Royals. Here’s the link to the post on the infielders. Here’s the link to the post on the outfielders. Here’s the link to the post on the rotation. And here’s the link to a video of dogs sliding around on hardwood floors. That’s not a metaphor or anything, I just think it’s funny when dogs slide around on hardwood floors.
Today I wanted to recommend some resolutions for the bullpen and bench players, but because there are so many options for the bullpen (most of whom don’t really need to change anything next year), and because the reserves likely won’t have a huge impact overall, I’ll just be discussing a few players, starting off with the Royals’ potential utility man.
Bonifacio should resolve to not revert back to what he was doing with the Blue Jays for most of 2013. In those first few months of the season, Bonifacio was swinging at nearly 50% of the pitches he saw – resulting in a 4.6% walk rate – and when he made contact, the ball was a flyball over 30% of the time. For an all-speed-no-power type of player, that’s not an effective means of getting on base. When he came over to the Royals, Bonifacio improved his plate discipline by swinging at 44.5% of pitches, which caused his walk rate to climb to 9.5%, and in addition to a much better line drive percentage (23.5%), he also significantly cut down on his flyball rate (20.%). More line drives and ground balls resulted in an elevated BABIP of .369 that is likely to regress some, but as long as he’s not hitting the ball in the air too much, Bonifacio could be a productive offensive player in a reduced role.
Valencia’s resolution should be to do whatever he can to improve against right-handed pitching, so he can be a legitimate potential replacement if Mike Moustakas struggles in 2014. So far in his career, Valencia has a .229/.269/.360 line against righties, and curveballs have given him the hardest time. Against curves from righties, Valencia has just an .091 average and no extra-base hits. He hasn’t been that much better against sliders, but if Valencia is to really challenge Moustakas next season, he’ll need to learn to identify curveballs better, and make better contact against them.
For 2014, Crow needs to start missing more bats, with his sinker and his slider. In 2011 and 2012, when Crow struck out over a batter per inning, his sinker generated whiffs on 11.72% of opponent swings. Last season, that rate dropped to 8.33%. On his slider, opposing batters whiffed on over half of their swings from 2011 to 2012, but just 43% of the time in 2013. On the whole, Crow did generate more swings, but batters were making contact more frequently as well, which led to an opponent batting average of .263, 35 points higher than the previous season. Crow was also throwing first pitch strikes at a higher clip, but it seems that his lack of a third pitch allowed batters to sit on his slider. If Crow can either mix his pitches more, or add better movement to his stuff, his strikeout rate could climb back to where it was in the last couple of seasons.
As I’m sure you’re aware, Herrera struggled with the home run ball in 2013, so his resolution should be to cut down on those next year. Part of giving up that many home runs is attributable to just plain bad luck. Even for a reliever, a HR/FB rate of 18% is absurdly high, so I’d expect some natural regression anyway. The other culprit appears to be a combination of his pitch selection and location. Five of the 9 home runs Herrera allowed came on his fourseamer, but I would suggest his ineffective sinker was just as much to blame. In the 2012 season, Herrera threw his sinker around 11% of the time, and it generated a whiff rate of 9.68%. Last year, Herrera threw the sinker 16% of the time, and opponents whiffed on just 7.69% of those. His increased reliance on the sinker came at the expense of his devastating changeup, and any time a reliever is throwing his best pitch – and one of the best pitches in baseball – less frequently, it’s not a good thing. As for pitch location, too many of his pitches were thigh-high last season, whereas in 2012, Herrera threw more balls at the bottom of the zone. Correcting these few minor things, coupled with some better luck, should help Herrera to be dominant once again.