Should the KC Royals go get this good veteran closer?

A former Kansas City hurler is still on the market.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A generally accepted notion around baseball, especially among observers who've pledged their allegiance to so-called advanced or non-traditional metrics, is that FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching for the unfamiliar) is a better indication of pitching prowess than ERA. Very simply put, the thought is that because the former takes into account more factors, including those over which pitchers have no control, it's more telling than the latter. How much the KC Royals rely on FIP is unknown, but they probably don't dismiss it.

Is FIP really better than ERA? That depends on your perspective and what you're trying to measure, but it's also a discussion for another day. Worth noting, though, is that in the case of former Royal reliever Liam Hendriks, FIP may have suggested, early in his career, that he could be pretty good when ERA didn't.

Consider Hendriks' ERA and FIP from 2011, the year he broke into the majors with Minnesota, through 2013, the season before he joined the Royals in the trade deadline swap that sent Danny Valencia to Toronto. In 30 games, 28 of them starts, Hendriks' ERA was 6.06, his FIP 5.31. And his record? He lost 13 of 15 decisions.

But those numbers didn't dissuade the eventual American League champion Royals from adding Hendriks to their stretch-run roster. As a Royal, his ERA was a too-high 4.66, but his FIP was a dramatically lower 2.20. The club shipped him back to Toronto after the season.

It was then that Hendriks found his true baseball calling — the Jays put him in the bullpen, where for the first time he lowered his full-season ERA below 5.00 (2.92) with a 2.14 ERA.

Things only got better for Hendriks. He became one of the majors' best relievers — pitching for the White Sox, he led the AL with 38 saves in 2021, saved 37 two seasons ago, and earned 25 saves with the A's in 2019. He's also a three-time All-Star. His ERA since leaving Kansas City is 2.97 and his FIP is 2.53.

So, what does all that have to do with the Royals? Just this: the club could be thinking about adding a closer, and free agent Hendriks is, by any metric, a good one.

Should Kansas City pursue Liam Hendriks?

Hendriks' numbers, especially his FIP over the last eight seasons, say "Yes," but even the best FIP doesn't tell the whole story. Other factors complete the picture.

And warrant a different answer.

First and foremost is Hendriks' right elbow, more specifically the ulnar collateral ligament he tore last summer after returning to action following a bout with cancer. He underwent Tommy John Surgery, a typically successful procedure, in August and appears to be targeting a return to action near the 2024 trade deadline.

And therein lies the rub when it comes to Hendriks. If the Royals are indeed on a closer quest, they don't want to wait until this season's July 30 deal deadline to get one. Delaying such a key acquisition until barely two months remain on the regular season schedule makes no sense. Not unless it's willing to give him a multi-year deal should the club even consider signing Hendriks now.

Instead, the Royals need to stick for their 2024 closer with a pitcher they already have. And as Kings of Kauffman's Jacob Milham wrote recently, that's Will Smith.

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