Kansas City Royals Bullpen: The True Ace of the Franchise



[sur-ber-uh s]

 1. In the Greek mythology, the three-headed hellhound that watches the entrance to the Underworld, preventing the dead from fleeing and the living from entering.

2. a formidable guard

3. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland

The formidable guard of the backend trio kept our runs ahead on the board, simultaneously preventing the opposition from entering the lead.

There’s absolutely no question in the minds of the Kansas City Royals, their fanbase, and all of the other envious Major League teams both American and National, that without the imposing back end of HDH, the Royals would probably not have had the same degree of success. Not even close. We can sounds off stats combined ERAs, whiff rates, K/9s, and WHIPs that prove this point, but…

Only one matters:

With a lead going into the 7th inning, the Kansas City Royals had a record of 78-1.  Going into the 8th? 79-1.  That’s beyond the realm of possibility considering the Royals are a team of human beings, not cybernetic organisms sent from the future to win baseball games in the AL Central.  But, if by a Field of Dreams type of miracle, HDH and their cohorts took leads into the 7th and managed to erase a lead only once; it’s as if the bullpen whispered into the ears of the offense: “If you lead it, we will hold.”

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Many were left with mouths agape when it was announced that not one of the dominate triumvirate were to be dished out in exchange for more lucrative offensive production or starting pitching.  Perhaps they weren’t watching the same Royals team that went to the World Series last year.  Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland struck fear into the hearts of late inning opponents last year, and this year they will be just as valuable if the Kansas City Royals are destined for Blue October Two: Electric Arm Boogaloo.

It’s no surprise that most of the talk permeating through Spring Training involves the bullpen.  With Luke Hochever’s inevitable reinsertion, Jason Frasor’s modest dominance, and Chris Young’s beautifully elegant oddness throwing off opposing hitters, the best in the bigs just got better, deeper, and more customizable. 

There are worries, very valid worries, that the Kansas City Royals’ rotation has become weakened with the departure of James Shields.  You can’t replace his consistency or endurance with Edinson Volquez, a pitcher with a history of command issues and recent Spring Training blunders.  Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy are not only expected to duplicate their success from 2014, but exceed them.

Some might call that unrealistic expectations.

On top of that, it seems that in every passing year, great starting pitching has fallen under the power of the mighty Tommy John surgery.  Although its benefits aren’t in question, its overwhelming use has obliterated many teams’ rotations; Just ask the 2014 Atlanta Braves.  On top of that, ace pitchers are getting lucrative multiyear contracts. How can the Kansas City Royals compete on a small market budget?  Simple.  They can’t.

Perhaps there is a grand experiment being orchestrated in the General Manager’s office. Without the financial wherewithal to sign big names or take risks, Dayton Moore has collected and ensemble of starting pitching made primarily of starters with career ERAs north of 4.00, who’s primary duty is to allow balls to be hit into the superior gloves of the Kansas City defense.

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I’m not denying the talents of Volquez, Guthrie, or Vargas, or even remotely proclaiming them invaluable, I’m just saying they don’t even touch Clayton Kershaw in ability.  They’re no aces.  But with such a cunning, lights out bullpen behind them in support, the amalgamation of talent effectively creates an “ace.”  This creation, a virtual hydra, could be a beast to be reckoned with if successful.  It’s not what’s been done in the past, but it’s a possible new direction in baseball.  A direction bred from financial necessity and risk-saving.

Some might consider this a point of weakness of Dayton Moore, his stubborn determination to avoid risk. I say if he were the GM of the Yankees, he’d be more prone to spend; despite the relative penny pinching in free agency, Moore spent money from within the organization on what not only worked but excelled above all else in baseball: the bullpen.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that being a member of a bullpen means that you simply weren’t good enough to be a starter.  No kid who grows up wanting to be a pitcher dreams of the glory of sitting in a cage, way back in the outfield, waiting for a shot to pitch a solitary inning.

The Kansas City Royals’ bullpen has transformed that image. With their dominance on national display in the postseason and stiff competition in Spring Training for an empty spot, the ‘pen of HDH and company have proven their value to this hungry team with much improvement.

Oh, what a relief it is.

Next: Louis Coleman Racking up Spring Training Strikeouts