The KC Royals and their Bullpen Full of Starting Pitchers
The KC Royals have a lot of former starters in the bullpen. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying it’s not a good thing.
The KC Royals bullpen problems have been discussed ad nauseum here (and here and here and here too), so piling on at this point is the lowest low-hanging fruit there is.
Fortunately, I am very much here for it.
The cosmetic changes (dropping Matt Strahm, adding Jake Junis and Scott Alexander) may help stem the tide—Junis and Alexander both performed admirably, albeit in very low stakes, Wednesday against Oakland. And it hasn’t been all bad from the stalwarts—in eight combined appearances, Peter Moylan and Joakim Soria have yet to allow an earned run.
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But—and this is a huge caveat, because I’m a moron—but what is with all the failed/former starting pitchers in the KC Royals bullpen?
I get Travis Wood, obviously. It’s been a little while since Wood was a starter and he’s made a pretty successful conversion to the ‘pen, posting sub-3.00 ERA’s the last two seasons (although his FIP nearly doubled and his xFIP jumped by more than a run from 2015 to 2016). He made nine playoff appearances out of the bullpen just last year for the Chicago Cubs, allowing two earned runs total to help the Cubs snap a century-old title drought.
For a shaky bullpen in desperate need of a veteran, one could do considerably worse than Travis Wood.
Chris Young has vacillated back and forth from starter to bullpen and back again since arriving in Kansas City in 2015. And that’s… fine? I mean, it’s not optimal, certainly, but Young can do both in a slightly above-league average fashion.
You could do a lot better, but you could also do worse than Chris Young.
Now Mike Minor…
I became familiar with Mike Minor through my previous work and I gotta tell you… this is a bad move. Mike Minor is not a guy that strolls on in and starts setting fools down—and that was back in 2014, when his left arm hadn’t been under the knife six-dozen or so times.
Going back to his days at Vanderbilt, Mike Minor has never been a reliever on a consistent basis. He’s not your prototypical LOOGY—for his career, lefties own a better average, better OBP, better line-drive percentage and an identical wOBA to right-handed batters. This is not his forte.
I empathize with Minor largely because I remember when he was pretty good and it seemed like a long career as a mid-rotation starter was in the offing. He WAS a good pitcher.
Then he lost two full seasons and the trajectory of his career changed.
On a good team—or a disastrous team—Minor is the sort of flier you take. If the Cubs—or the Angels, to pick a team on the opposite end of the spectrum—picked up Minor and pitched him in games where they were eight runs up or eight runs down, that would be one thing.
You could even extend this analogy to Young; good teams have defined rotations; bad teams need multiple Chris Young’s because you never can tell when your starter won’t get out of the third or you may need to suddenly thrust someone into the rotation due to injury or ineffectiveness.
The KC Royals fancy themselves a potential playoff team, meaning that at some point, they will want Mike Minor to throw some pitches of relative importance out of the bullpen and they’ll hope Chris Young is firmly planted, in either the rotation or the ‘pen, depending on what his performance merits.
This hypothetical is not the hypothetical of a contender. It’s the hypothetical of a team in need of a rebuild.