The Kansas City Royals want to establish a group of “Firemen” in the bullpen this year.
I listened to an interview Ned Yost gave on 810 WHB, and he talked about bullpen strategy. The Kansas City Royals changed the view of bullpens during their World Series runs. Lock down offenses after five innings with a group of closer type relievers. It was a cheaper way to get quality innings than the cost of hiring starters.
This strategy worked so well, the rest of the league hopped on it quick. The cost of quality relievers has since jumped dramatically. This was especially true for the players bouncing back or returning from injury that the Royals found cheap back then. Those type of players are no longer cheap.
Time for a new strategy. Ned wants a group of high leverage relievers he can call on in a pinch. This doesn’t mean they plan to abandon having relievers pitch for a whole inning. What he would like are guys who can come in quickly, with few warm ups, and stop innings from getting out of hand.
This is an idea that is familiar with me. In the 70’s they called them Firemen. They were usually your best reliever. The closer was not really a term that was used much. Starters pitched much longer back then and your best reliever might pitch two or three innings. Many times ending the game. Often times they had no idea when they would come into the game. It was whenever the starter began to have trouble.
Situational relievers are different. They come in against a specific hitter or say to just to left handed batters. A fireman is similar in that they come in at random. However, they are there to put out fires. To stay in until they stop the other teams momentum no matter who is at the plate. The Royals want part of the relief staff to concentrate on this part of the game.
Yost talked about the importance of having veterans on the relief staff. Players like Brad Boxberger, Jake Diekman and Drew Storen could fit this mode. There are a lot of inexperienced arms on the 40 man roster. Its good to have veterans around who can show the new guys how to prepare both mentally and physically to be ready when needed.
Yost didn’t close out the idea of one of those younger inexperienced players in this role. If the expectation is put in front of them from the beginning, they will adjust. Not every pitcher is right for this role. You want your player to embrace the idea, prepare, and not be bothered by the chance he may only get 15 warm up pitches before he see’s his first batter. This is where veteran leadership can help lead the way.
The Royals will still try to find a group of pitchers like HDH to fill out the back end of a game. That was a special group. It may take us a while to identify and groom another group like them. Yost has been saying for a while that there are no defined roles for any reliever. Everything is up for grabs.
This could make for a very interesting beginning of the season. I expect a great amount of movement in the bullpen as far as roles and also who will be there. We will probably see some great pitching and some that will be really bad. The Royals will try everybody to find the guys who will fill that Fireman role. At times it won’t look pretty.
The veterans who are there will be looking behind them at a large group of prospects who want their job. They know they need to be productive to both make the team and or put themselves in a position to be traded to another club.
The thing that gets me excited about this year is all of the Royals management and leadership want to win. Dayton Moore on down through the organization talk about winning games. Pitching, defense, and speed will be the buzz words in the dugout. Our starting pitching will be suspect until they prove otherwise. Our bullpen will need to capable and ready.
Pitching has been a difficult thing for the team to find. Over the last two years, Moore has collected a large group of talented pitchers who have good upside. It will be a numbers game. Not all will succeed, but a percentage will. They will be followed by wave after wave for a few years to come.
The Royals have not had this many talented pitchers in the pipeline since Moore took over. If we want to see the Kansas City Royals again play for championships, we need them to lead the way.