Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
As I wrote not long ago, the Royals’ bullpen should be even better in 2015 than it was last season. They have an elite back-end, solid middle relievers, and enough depth to get by if one of them struggles. The unit overall appears to be very strong.
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If there is one potential weakness to be found, it is in the lack of a true left-handed specialist at Ned Yost‘s disposal. Teams love having that LOOGY they can rely upon to retire a tough lefty in the 6th inning, and the Royals don’t have one right now.
But that’s okay, because it doesn’t look like they necessarily need one.
Here are the 7 relievers most likely to log the most inning with the Royals in 2015, along with opposing wOBA allowed to left-handed hitters since 2013, with 1 exception:
Greg Holland – .230
Wade Davis – .243 (using only his 2014 stats, since he’s a different pitcher out of the bullpen)
Kelvin Herrera – .299
Luke Hochevar – .266
Jason Frasor – .247
Tim Collins – .293
Louis Coleman – .270
If we narrow the stats down to just 2014 for everyone, only Frasor looks appreciably worse, and even in that scenario, all but Coleman have strikeout rates above 25% against southpaws. None of them are as effective against left-handed batters as a guy like Danny Duffy (.185 wOBA allowed), but they aren’t pitchers that absolutely must be removed before facing a lefty.
Holland and Davis don’t throw changeups or sinkers that move away from lefties, but a hitter could clone himself, swing the bat from both sides of the plate at the same time, and he still wouldn’t stand much of a chance against them. Herrera has a 99 MPH two-seamer and a wicked changeup that averages 90 MPH. So the last three innings are taken care of.
As for the middle innings, Hochevar has a similar repertoire to Davis, so he’ll rely mostly on high heat to get lefties out, although he’ll mix in his sinker on occasion and he’ll throw his cutter and curveball in just about any situation. Frasor has a very effective changeup, even if he lost a few swinging strikes last season.
That leaves us with Collins and Coleman, both of whom have had success against lefties in the past, even if 2014 wasn’t particularly great. Collins’ big curveball and fastball can throw off opponents’ timing, and Coleman’s sinker gets just enough arm-side run to keep lefties off balance. Neither of them are guys you want to rely on consistently in high-leverage moments, but they shouldn’t be liabilities against left-handed hitters.
Gustave has shown poor platoon splits, but again, he won’t be used in tough spots anyway, so that shouldn’t affect this overall point.
If the Royals aren’t comfortable starting the season without a real LOOGY in the pen, they do have a few options on the farm. Newly-acquired Brian Flynn held lefties to a .666 OPS last season (mostly working as a starter), with three and a half times as many strikeouts as walks. Brandon Finnegan isn’t likely to start the year in Kansas City, but we know he can make a lefty like David Ortiz look silly.
Then there are non-roster invitees such as Scott Alexander and the always-awesome Buddy Baumann. Alexander had a reverse split in 2014, but held lefties to a paltry .394 OPS in 2013, while striking out 43% of those hitters. Baumann worked out of the rotation some last year, but lefties have done no better than a .654 OPS in the last three seasons against him.
Every manager likes to have a reliever he can use against opposing left-handed bats, and most of the time, that reliever will be a lefty himself. Platoon advantages are very important, particularly in the later innings, so it would be nice if the Royals had a LOOGY in the bullpen. However, LOOGYs generally aren’t pitchers who have success against right-handed hitters (*cough* Scott Downs *cough*). In other words, it may be better to have pitchers who can face batters from both sides of the plate.
The Royals appear to be in position to do just that. Their big three relievers have success against everyone, and their middle relievers have the kind of stuff to miss plenty of bats, even against lefties. They do have some guys in the minors that they could call upon if the current group displays any kind of issues, but for the time being, the Royals should be just fine without having a LOOGY among their 7 or 8 relievers.