Kansas City Royals “Just Stumbled” Upon Strong Bullpen
By John Viril
The Kansas City Royals “just stumbled” upon their strong bullpen, according to assistant general manager J.J. Picollo in an interview with ESPN’s Jason Stark.
Instead, the KC Royals intended to build their team in a much more conventional manner. Picollo told Stark:
"“Our goal is to take starters because we can afford [big league] relievers,” Picollo said. “We can’t plug in [free-agent] starters because we can’t pay those guys. So economics certainly factor into it, especially for a small- to mid-market team.”"
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Yet, that plan didn’t work. Almost a decade ago, the Kansas City Royals drafted players like Luke Hochevar (no. 1 overall, 2006), Aaron Crow (no. 9 overall, 2009), and traded for Wade Davis trying to stock their rotation. Instead, all of the above, along with international signee Kelvin Herrera, only became relievers after failing as starters.
Pretty much only Greg Holland, among the KC Royals headline relievers the last three seasons, was acquired with the idea of using him as a bullpen arm.
Picollo noted that the Kansas City Royals weren’t the first team to win the World Series powered by a strong bullpen. He recalled watching a documentary about the 1990 Cincinnati Reds’ “Nasty Boys” bullpen that featured Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton:
"“I thought: We didn’t invent this. It was done 25 years ago,” Picollo said. “And we just stumbled upon it.”"
Not only was the the Kansas City Royals “model” of winning with a strong bullpen and mediocre rotation unintentional, the team doesn’t intend to build that way in the future:
"“We don’t think it’s a recipe for success,” Picollo said, “to get less innings from our starters, by any stretch of the imagination. … It can be done. But it’s not the way we want to do it. We can’t expect our bullpen to pick up that type of load over what’s really a seven-month season. It’s just too much to ask.”"
Though the Kansas City Royals current success formula was an accident, it doesn’t mean that the front office has learned nothing from the experience. First of all, teams know that winning is still possible even without a strong rotation. Second, the KC Royals are unlikely to wait five years before moving a struggling starter to the bullpen—like they did with Luke Hochevar.
Next: Royals Sign Former Top OF Prospect Travis Snider
As former Dodger’s front office legend Branch Rickey famously said, “Luck is the residue of design.” If the Kansas City Royals continue to go pitching-heavy in future drafts, those arms can still help the club as relievers even if the prospects fail to become the ace starters the personnel staff hoped to land.