KC Royals: What The Royals Know About Pitching That Others Miss
By John Viril
Nov 1, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher
throws a pitch against the New York Mets in the 12th inning in game five of the World Series at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Why A Dominant Bullpen Is The Better Alternative
On the other hand, the KC Royals off-season moves have been aimed at preserving their bullpen dominance. They retained swingman Chris Young, who performed well as both a starter and reliever last season with 16 relief appearances and 18 starts while delivering a 3.06 ERA in 123.1 innings pitched. The KC Royals also invested $25 million over three years to bring back Joakim Soria as a setup man.
The Kansas City Royals have won two straight pennants with a bullpen headlined by three dominant relievers. Dayton Moore has figured out that you can beat aces with mediocre starters supported by elite relievers.
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Take a look at the KC Royals 4.23 rotation ERA from 2015. Kansas City Royals starters gave up .47 runs per inning on average. Over six innings you’d expect them to allow 2.82 runs. However, KC was finishing games with Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera, and Wade Davis in playoffs—who were allowing .213 runs per inning as a group. Pitch them three innings and you could expect them to allow .641 runs.
Suddenly, your below average starters sport a solid 3.43 ERA over an entire game. That’s how the KC Royals finished third in the AL in staff ERA despite a jury-rigged rotation.
In many ways, the 2015 season wasn’t the best embodiment of the Kansas City Royals winning formula. Greg Holland struggled most of the year until he broke down with elbow trouble in September. The 2014 bullpen that featured the famous HDH trio of Herrera, Davis, and Holland gave up a mere .142 runs per inning—a run expectancy over three innings of .426. With HDH, that 4.23 ERA staff now has an effective 3.25 ERA.
The beauty of a bullpen with a dominant back-end trio is that you can deploy them only when needed. If your offense hangs a 10-spot on the opposition, you can leave them in the garage. Is it any wonder that projection systems based on run-differentials consistently under-estimate the KC Royals?
In short, a dominant back-end trio allows the team manager to turn his milquetoast starter into an ace if the game is close. Even with teams bidding up the prices on setup men in an attempt to build a “Kansas City Royals” bullpen, the results are still worth the cost.
In a world where you can’t grab all the talent you really want, choosing cheaper relievers, with shorter guaranteed contracts, over fragile aces makes sense.
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That’s why Dayton Moore is willing to pay top dollar to stock the KC Royals bullpen. He’s found a way to compete with baseball’s top guns without shelling out nine-figure contracts.