Obviously, if you talk to any legitimate stat junkie, they’d be able to tell you in a heartbeat, but ask any casual baseball fan which team bullpen was the most valuable to their team last year, and very few….probably none….would be able to tell you it was the Royals. With an overall WAR of 7.3 and such solid numbers like a 77.8-percent strand rate, an 8.5-percent HR/FB, a 3.17 ERA and a 8.58 K/9, the Royals pen was one of the team’s strongest assets. And this year probably won’t be much different as most of the components that made it so successful last year are back for more here in 2013.
Greg Holland walks into the 2013 season with the job in hand after turning out such a great second half last year, particularly once he took over the closer’s role when Jonathan Broxton was traded to Cincinnati. 2012 didn’t start off particularly well for him when he was given the opportunity to close in the wake of the Joakim Soria injury, but it was later learned that the root of his problems was a rib fracture that he was trying to pitch through. He finished April with an 11.37 ERA thanks to 6.1 absolutely brutal innings and landed on the DL. Upon his return in late May, Broxton had a firm hold on the ninth inning and Holland stayed in a set-up role in which he was dominant. He still gave up a few too many hits and walks, but he stranded plenty of base-runners and held the opposition to a sub-.200 average for all of July and August. And though he hit a few bumps in the road, like any other closer does, he proved himself worthy of the opportunity the following year. Holland should prove to be a valuable fantasy asset this year as his job security seems pretty strong. He’ll notch his fair share of saves, for sure, and he’ll do so with an impressive strikeout rate to boot. Hopefully the walks and hits allowed come down the more he settles into the job.
The two primary set-up guys in the Royals pen right now are right-hander Kelvin Herrera and southpaw Tim Collins. Should anything happen to Holland, it would be Herrera, with his 98-100 mph heat, career 79.6-percent strand rate, and 54.7-percent ground ball rate, who would step in as the closer. Collins has the more impressive double-digit K/9, but he’s more of a fly-ball pitcher and tends to give up the long ball a bit more often. Together, they form a formidable tandem and are more than capable of shutting down any potential rally a team is trying to mount against them. If your league counts holds, both should be considered must-owns.
The talent runs deep into the pen as you’ve got guys like Aaron Crow, Nathan Adcock, Louis Coleman, Francisley Bueno, and Juan Gutierrez, all of whom have had plenty of success in their roles with the team. Both last year and even for a part of the current spring, Crow was actually considered for a starter’s position as well as a dark horse candidate for saves at some point. However, his struggles with left-handed hitting (career 4.47 FIP ) have held him in a more limited role. Adcock could also be considered somewhat of a dark horse candidate for saves as well and he’s even gotten a bit of closing work in this spring. His slider is his out-pitch and he induces plenty of ground ball outs with it, but he too struggles with the walks and the men on-base as evidenced by his career 1.46 WHIP. The other three, Coleman, Gutierez and Bueno are all competing for very limited spots right now with Gutierrez apparently sitting in the lead for the final spot. You’re not looking at much in the way of fantasy value here outside of deep AL-only league, but for real-life purposes, the group is plenty young and plenty strong.
Given the way injuries decimated the Royals pen last year, the club is all about keeping guys around who can make reasonably successful spot starts and then turn around and head back to the pen for the next day. Lefty Everett Teaford is a solid option they’ve turned to in the past, as well as Luis Mendoza who, technically, is still competing for the fifth starter’s spot. Chances are, though, given his success in the role last year, Mendoza will be reprising his role in the bullpen once again. And let’s not forget the loser of the fifth starter’s position — either Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar — as one of those two will be sent back to the bullpen after losing the battle. Neither can head to Triple-A without clearing waivers. Should someone in the rotation get hurt, the only one I would really trust as a pitcher to stream would be Mendoza. He looked sharp in the Caribbean Series earlier in the year but he’s probably not one to trust too much, long term