A Call To The Bullpen

The Royals know, as well as every other baseball franchise, that in order to win you must have solid pitching. A team needs starters that can go six or more innings on a regular basis. Even so, if a team has good starting pitching consistently throughout the season they are not necessarily going to be a team that is playoff bound. Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia, Zack Greinke, Andy Pettitte, Chris Carpenter, etc., are all capable of going eight innings in a single start, but to expect them to do it every time is unreasonable. They are, after all, human.

When baseball was first organized, pitchers were expected to throw the whole game, and maybe even pitch the second game of a double header as well. I like a strong work ethic in a pitcher, but even the best pitchers in the league have their limits. There are also times when a pitcher gets injured in the middle of the game or is being shelled and the coaches have to stop the bleeding.

There are a number of theories on the origin of the bullpen in the world of baseball. Some date back to the 1880s. Whenever the word first joined the colorful world of baseball slang doesn’t matter, but the importance of a solid bullpen doesn’t diminish.

If you were to take a look at the World Series champions in recent memory, you will find many great things a team needs to have to win a championship, including a solid bullpen. A bullpen in today’s league is a lot more planned out then it was only thirty years ago. In today’s game a team will typically have a guy labeled the closer, a setup man, a long reliever, and a mixture of righties and lefties are available upon request from the manger. These pitchers will pitch anywhere from one batter to four innings.

The Royals were a team going into the 2009-2010 offseason looking to upgrade their bullpen. They knew and still know that they have one of the best closers in the game in Joakim Soria, but getting to a situation that allows him to perform his role was not as consistent as the Royals liked. What did they do? They went shopping. They picked up some solid pitchers who have had success as relievers. The most successful one this year being the now departed Kyle Farnsworth. There were others, but this guy stood out in his 37 appearances for the Royals. He showed grit ,working between one and three innings per outing. He had an ERA of 2.42 and a record of 3-0. This is why Atlanta wanted him. He either continues the success of the quality start or stops the bleeding. He was expensive to bring in, but was he worth it? Some would argue that he wasn’t but a quality veteran leader in a very young bullpen that produces is hard to come by.

As a whole the Royals’ bullpen has been streaky throughout the entire season. At times they would blow the lead for the starter in three or four straight games and in the next three pitch scoreless bliss. The following pitchers have been used out of the Royals bullpen in either limited capacity or otherwise:

Bryan Bullington (now in the starting rotation)
Bruce Chen (now in the starting rotation)
Jesse Chavez (Acquired from Atlanta and has posted an ERA similar to Farnsworth so far)
Roman Colon (Released in May)
Juan Cruz (Released in April)
Kyle Farnsworth (Traded to Atlanta right before the deadline)
Dusty Hughes (Given a chance after 2009 late-season call-up)
Philip Humber (Acquired from Minnesota’s AAA team and was just called up)
Victor Marte (Released in April)
John Parrish (Released in June)
Josh Rupe (Blake Wood replaced him on the roster)
Joakim Soria (All-Star closer and is among league leaders in saves)
Robinson Tejeda (Solid reliever the past two seasons for the Royals but is now on the DL)
Kanekoa Texeira (Rookie pitcher has performed well since coming from Seattle)
Brad Thompson (Rejected demotion after poor performance and is now a free agent)
Blake Wood (Started the year at AAA but has not given up a run in his last six appearances)

Based on the performances so far this season Bullington and Chen will not return to the bullpen unless asked. Chavez has performed better since he was traded to Kansas City. He was previous in Atlanta and had struggled. This bullpen is a mixed range of talent going from inexperienced young hurlers who are just getting their feet wet in the majors to an all-star closer. The Royals wanted to get young and they get an “A” in that department.

However, youth can be either good for a pitcher or bad. It can be good in that he might not realize or care if he’s facing Joe Mauer or Derek Jeter with the game tied, and just pitches the way he knows how. This causes less stress on the reliever. It can be bad because they get wide-eyed that they’re facing someone they grew up watching him play. In addition, inexperience can lead to mental errors or misreads. The Royals did a great job of countering this from happening by bringing in veteran catcher Jason Kendall. He has been around the league long enough to give the pitchers insights that he knows about the batters.

With the majority of the ERAs of the bullpen under five this season, the Royals should be content. Still, they have many young players adjusting to big league hitters and on occasion get stage fright, which leads to mistakes. (Poor defense does not help, either.)

The team could choose to keep their current talent and work hard to improve in the offseason or look to see what free agency or the farm system has come up with during spring training. If the Royals choose the former, they can use their leftover funds to possibly beef up their starting rotation or bring in a player who can help the defense as well as the offense. If they chose the latter, they could attempt to bring in a reliever with some experience who has the reputation for shutting people down consistently. (Post-season experience is always a plus).

The Royals know they have a solid closer and have mixed and matched setup men all season. Some of them have done well and some of them got the boot. The Royals trimmed the fat early in the season and were willing to work with the current talent level. The Royals are only a couple of weeks away from the roster-expansion part of the season. Two of the pitchers at the AAA level are on the forty-man roster (Gabriel Hernandez and Victor Marte). Both pitchers have pitched well in their last ten games, so look for at least two to get a shot in September and next year’s spring training.

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