Having the flu is a nightmare. The sweats, the all-night restlessness, the purging of all sorts of disgustingness from the body, it’s awful. Some like to huddle up under the covers all day for comfort. Some like to sip on some warm chicken soup. You know what makes me feel better? That’s right — the Kansas City Royals bullpen. Last season’s darlings in powder blue collectively posted a 7.3 WAR (second in the majors), a 9.57 K/9 (first), and a collective 2.55 ERA (second) over 461.2 innings. It was a thing of beauty, and best of all, they’re all returning again this season.
I could sit here for hours and hours gushing about how amazing Holland was last year and will be this season, but we’re all trying to keep our breakfast down right now. From his 47 saves to his 1.21 ERA to his 103 strikeouts in 67 innings (13.84 K/9), the guy was a beast, plain and simple. He pushed his way into the conversation with Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman and you’d be hard-pressed to say otherwise. He was my fantasy MVP in a number of leagues last season and even Jeff Zimmerman, the most pessimistic of all Royals fans, could only come up with “If he happens to revert back to his past high-walk ways his value may be knocked down a notch or two,” as a potential negative in FanGraphs+. Maybe it’s the heavy dose of cold meds or maybe I’m just a cock-eyed optimist, but after watching him as often as I did last yar and the year before, I don’t see his walk rate regressing.
The Set-Up Men
We sort of have to lump the seventh and eighth inning work together here as all four men were called upon in a variety of situations last year. Hochevar was a revelation for the Royals in his first year in the bullpen and while he began the season bridging the gap between starter and eight-inning set-up man, he was later called upon to be that eighth-inning set-up man when Crow and Herrera were going through some struggles. His move from starter to reliever came with an increase in velocity and a jump in strikeouts — going from a 6.20 K/9 (career) to a 10.50 K/9 last year — and he ended up being the most reliable arm in the pen. As for fantasy value though, he would probably need to be the eighth-inning guy to have any real value as the holds won’t pile up for him in the seventh. We’ll have to see how things shake out this spring.
Herrera was actually a bit troublesome last year. After an outstanding 2012 he began last year with a 4.87 ERA and eight home runs allowed in just the first two months. He was optioned to Triple-A Omaha in late May to clean up his mechanics and later recalled in June. However, upon his return, he couldn’t seem to locate his pitches and found himself back in the minors once again. When he was brought back up after the All Star break, he posted a 2.64 ERA with a 12.03 K/9 and a 1.76 BB/9 over 30.2 innings and all was right with the universe again. Should all issues be left behind, he’ll slot back into the right-handed eighth-inning role and likely be called upon on days where Holland may not be available.
On the surface, Crow put together a fairly decent year with a 3.38 ERA over 48.0 innings last season, however, upon closer look, he wasn’t without his own struggles as well. His 4.34 FIP was more indicative of the way he was pitching at times and his 1.13 HR/9 was twice what it was the year before. He also saw a drop in both his strikeout and walk rates. It’s really his work against lefties that seems to be the root of these drops as his K/9 goes from 9.12 to 7.33 with a change of hand for the batter and his FIP goes from 3.66 to 5.06 as well. He’ll either need to correct that this spring or he’s likely to find himself in more of a ROOGY-type role which would likely end up hurting his overall value.
Similarly to Herrera, Collins had his fair share of struggles in the first half due to command issue which resulted in a 13.6-percent walk rate. That led him to higher pitch counts and more hits allowed as hitters merely waited on him to throw strikes rather than chase pitches. But in the second half, things turned around and he increased his strikeouts, reduced the walks and posted a 78-percent strand rate. He routinely jammed hitters inside resulting in a infield fly ball rate of just over 17-percent and by year end, he was back to being that dominant lefty specialist with a career-best 21 holds. He’ll fill the same role again this season and should post a decent reliever value so long as he continues to work like he did in the second half last year.
The Middle Relievers
Just like Hochevar, Chen opened up last year in the bullpen and excelled with a 2.04 ERA, a 6.35 K/9 and just three home runs allowed over 39.2 innings. The situations were mostly considered low-leverage, but he did a great job bridging the gap from starter to set-up. However, with the struggles of Davis, which we’ll get to in a moment, he was moved back into the rotation where he lost what bullpen mojo he had going for him. Over a span of 81.2 innings he posted a 3.87 ERA and his K/9 dropped to 5.53. His walk rate dropped a bit which was nice, but outside of a small handful of starts, he didn’t post a very strong value. He walks into this season competing with rookie Yordano Ventura for the fifth starter’s spot, but unless the rookie completely flops this spring, Chen should wind up back in the pen.
Davis was a tough one for the Royals last season as they were hoping to get the guy with the 2012 numbers when they asked for him to be included in the Wil Myers/James Shields trade. In 2012, while pitching out of the Rays bullpen, Davis posted a 2.43 ERA (2.78 FIP) with an 11.13 K/9 and a 3.00 K/BB over 70.1 innings. When the Royals got him and plugged him into the rotation, they got a mildly abusive 5.89 ERA over 94.2 innings. He did post a solid 8.27 K/9, but he had a 3.90 BB/9 and a 1.24 HR/9 as well. When they moved him into the pen, his struggles continued as he lost on his strikeout rate and had an ERA close to 4.00 for the second half. The hope is that by starting him off in the bullpen this year he can recapture that 2012 magic. If he can’t, then he’ll probably just fill a mop-up role.
Coleman received a handful of call-ups throughout the season and was extremely effective whenever called upon. He threw a total of 29.2 innings with more than a strikeout per inning and a miniscule 0.61 ERA thanks to a newly developed sinking fastball. He should land himself a job on the 25-man roster coming out of the spring, but his value will probably be limited due to a lack of hold situations. That could obviously change, but with the depth this bullpen has, his time might not be now.
Joseph earned himself a late-season call-up and threw 5.2 scoreless innings with an impressive 11.12 K/9. His command seemed a bit off at times, but should he have a strong spring, he could end up the team’s LOOGY this year which could net him some decent holds.
Dwyer has spent the last year and a half as a starter for Triple-A Omaha. He showed some improvement last year during his first full-season and earned a late-season call-up. However with a K/9 below 7.00 and a BB/9 over 4.00, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about. He’ll likely open the season in Triple-A again and be a candidate for another September appearance here in 2014.
While I expect to continue dosing myself with serious cold meds and keep the path clear from my bed to the bathroom, I have to say that even just writing this makes me feel better. Just knowing that I own Holland in a pair of keeper leagues helps to bring the fever down. Another strong year from the Royals bullpen is imperative to the teams success this year as they have a number of question marks in the rotation. And just like that, the thought of Jeremy Guthrie on my fantasy team has started the process of a light-breakfast purge.
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