The Royals Bullpen is Their Biggest Advantage


Every year, at the non-waiver trade deadline, there are a flurry of rumors involving relief pitchers. It makes sense, as a strong bullpen is generally considered to be a major part of being a true contender. As it turns out, the difference in bullpens between the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals may be the difference in the chase for the American League Central.

When the Tigers acquired David Price, it seemed as though they were easily the class of the division. Being able to send out the last three Cy Young award winners, as well as the defending ERA leader in Anibal Sanchez, gave the Tigers a truly formidable rotation. They even appeared to shore up their bullpen, acquiring former Royals closer Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers on July 23rd.

Yet, despite those efforts, the Royals find themselves a half game out of first in the Central, in large part due to the deficiencies of the Tigers bullpen. Soria has struggled since going over to Detroit, posting a 10.38 ERA while allowing ten hits and two walks in 4.1 innings, and has been placed on the disabled list with a strained abdominal muscle. Joe Nathan, who was brought in to finally give the Tigers a closer, has been a spectacular disaster, looking as though he has suddenly hit the wall.

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The Tigers bullpen woes have been a major part of their recent slump. Yet, these struggles were fairly easy to see coming, as the Tigers bullpen had a 4.49 ERA and a 1.47 WHiP heading into yesterday’s action, both of which ranked 28th in baseball. Meanwhile, the Royals, who have been able to build a bullpen that has been a true weapon. Should the Royals have a lead through six innings, it feels like they are almost guaranteed a victory. In fact, the Royals are only allowing 0.99 runs per game after the sixth inning, which is fifth in baseball. The Tigers, meanwhile, have allowed 1.58 runs per game after the sixth, which is, again, 28th in baseball.

That statistic just proves how reliable the Royals bullpen has been this season. While their 3.24 ERA and 1.26 WHiP may not seem stellar, those numbers are also skewed by the struggles that Tim Collins, Michael Mariot and Louis Coleman had before being relegated to the minors.

The main four in the Royals bullpen, with Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and newcomer Jason Frasor, have been stellar this season. Holland, Davis and Herrera have combined for a 1.45 ERA and a 1.06 WHiP entering yesterday’s action. Frasor, in particular, has done an excellent job to solidify that spot before Herrera and/or Davis, as he has allowed only one hit and one walk in his 5.2 innings of work, striking out eight.

In general, relief pitching tends to get overlooked by the casual fan. Big name starters or top flight closers get a lot of the attention, but having a strong bullpen between those positions is vitally important. That is something that the Detroit Tigers are coming to realize as the Royals have come roaring back in the race for the American League Central.

Despite the Tigers having the bigger names and the flashy stars, the Battle for the Central could well come down to a battle of the bullpens. Should that be the case, one has to like the Royals chances.