Sep 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the tenth inning at U.S Cellular Field. The Kansas City Royals defeated the Chicago White Sox 5-3 in ten innings. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The short answer is that the 2014 bullpen boasted a more impressive top three in the famed HDH trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. But, the 2015 bullpen features better depth. Overall, I think the 2014 pen was better suited for post-season play then the 2015 version.
The data, however, tends to support the 2015 version. Overall, the 2015 pen held opponents to an American League best 2.72 ERA. That mark was significantly better than the 2014 pen’s 3.30 ERA, especially when you consider that it came against a more liberal run scoring environment in 2015.
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However, the playoffs allow a manager to use his best relievers pretty much every game. And, the HDH trio was clearly more dominant in 2014 than the back end in 2015. Kelvin Herrera (1.41 ERA), Wade Davis (1.00 ERA), and Greg Holland (1.44 ERA, 46 saves) were historically good. While the KC Royals again feature a three headed monster in the bullpen, they’re simply not the same overwhelming force. Ryan Madson (2.13 ERA), Kelvin Herrera (2.71 ERA), and Wade Davis (0.94 ERA) are impressive, but not as uniformly dominant has HDH.
Yet, the players behind HDH in 2014 had flaws. The 2014 Kansas City Royals backed up their big three with Jason Frasor, Brandon Finnegan, Tim Collins, and Danny Duffy. While Finnegan and Frasor had solid, regular season success out of the pen, and Duffy sported a 2.56 ERA as a starter, the ancillary parts were not as deep and effective as in 2015.
In 2015, manager Ned Yost had a pen full of useful options. Chris Young has proved to be effective as both a starter and long reliever (3.06 ERA, 123.0 IP, 18 starts). Danny Duffy, while not enjoying the results he did last season, has had nearly a month to acclimate to a bullpen role in 2015. Franklin Morales (3.18 ERA) has performed well against both lefties and righties, though he struggled some down the stretch. The 2015 Kansas City Royals also will benefit from the return of Luke Hochevar (3.73 ERA), who seemed to improve late in the season as he became further removed from his 2014 Tommy John surgery.
Overall, I believe the 2014 pen was better due to Yost’s ability to cherry-pick effective arms for the playoffs. However, the 2015 bullpen will remain a team strength compared to their opponents.
Next: 2015 Bench vs. 2014 Bench