Wade Davis is gone. So is Luke Hochevar and Greg Holland. What’s in store for the KC Royals bullpen in 2017?
No unit was more associated with Kansas City’s back-to-back World Series runs in 2014 and 2015 than its unflappable bullpen. Anchored by Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, the KC Royals’ relief staff often ended games after the sixth inning.
But with Davis traded to the Cubs and Holland signed by the Rockies, only Herrera remains in Kansas City. Can the Royals fight their way back into the postseason in 2017 with a new crew of relievers?
Here’s the questions we’re asking ourselves about the bullpen heading into spring training:
Can Herrera handle the closer role for an entire season?
He should, right?
Herrera, 27, has done everything for Kansas City’s bullpen over the past five years, serving as a seventh- and eighth-inning specialist before filling in admirably for Davis as closer during stretches last season. Over his six-year career, Herrera owns a 2.63 ERA with 360 strikeouts over 356 1/3rd innings.
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He was phenomenal in 2016, posting a 2.75 ERA with 86 Ks in 72 innings, earning 12 saves while recording a career-best .96 WHIP. His ability to handle the closer role essentially made Davis expendable before he hit free agency.
That being said, being a full-time closer is different than being the eighth-inning guy. We fully expect Herrera to excel in the ninth inning. If he doesn’t, the Royals are in trouble.
Who pitches in the seventh and eighth innings for the KC Royals?
Ned Yost likes defined roles.
He has a seventh-inning guy, an eighth-inning guy and a closer. With Herrera moving to the end of games, who bridges games between the starters and him?
Rookie left-hander Matt Strahm might be the answer if he doesn’t pitch himself into the rotation. In 22 innings last season Strahm, a starter for most of his minor league career, posted a 1.23 ERA while fanning 30 batters.
With the Royals’ questions marks in the rotation, though, Strahm is in contention to be Kansas City’s fifth starter.
Another late-inning option, whether we like it or not, is Joakim Soria. Despite blowing seven saves last year, Soria will likely get another shot at high-leverage innings this year, in part because the Royals’ pen doesn’t have near the depth of its pennant winning teams from two years back. The 32-year-old right-hander had easily the worst season of his 10-year career, going 5-8 with a 4.05 ERA. Opponents hit .271 off Soria in 2016.
Lefty Brian Flynn looks to be the darkhorse to serve as a setup man in either the seventh or eighth innings. After two uninspiring years as a starter in Miami – and a year rehabbing a back injury in 2015 – the 6-foot-7 former Wichita State standout sported a 2.60 ERA over 55 1/3rd innings for Kansas City last year. He’ll likely be called on even more in 2017.