Last year was a busy one for the Royals bullpen and it has led some to be worried if they were over-worked to the point they will not be as effective this season. There are already high expectations for the amount of production the Royals will get out of players like Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland, but what if last year’s toll was too much to allow a repeat performance?
Kansas City relievers pitched 561.1 innings last year, the most in the American League by 2.1 innings over the Minnesota Twins and the second most in baseball behind the Colorado Rockies. This was due to a starting pitching staff that had issues getting out of the sixth inning. The average start from a Royals pitcher last season lasted about 5.5 innings. Only three Royals starting pitchers managed to throw over 100 innings last season – Luis Mendoza, Bruce Chen, and Luke Hochevar – and none of them averaged more than 5.9 innings per start. Jeremy Guthrie was the only starter to average more than six innings per start at 6.5 inning pitched.
This isn’t news to anyone. Everyone knew last season the Royals couldn’t get deep starts out of their starting pitching staff which is why Kansas City had a pipeline of long relievers and starters coming between Omaha and Kansas City to supplement the staff. It is in this pipeline that we begin to realize that Kansas City’s bullpen wasn’t as overused, from an individual pitcher standpoint, as one would think.
Last season Everett Teaford, Nate Adcock, Luis Mendoza, and Vin Mazzaro combined to throw 101 1/3 innings, or 18% of the Royals bullpen innings in 2012. This mixture of long relievers helped bridge the gap created by the disaster that was KC’s starting pitching staff to help reduce the innings burden on middle relievers and the back end of the bullpen.
Teaford: 36.2 IP
Adcock: 27.1 IP
Mendoza: 20 IP
Mazzaro: 17.1 IP
The 101-plus innings reduced the amount of innings pitchers like Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, and Greg Holland had to cover to 460 innings. And of those 460 innings, Herrera, Collins, Crow, and Holland would take care of 285 2/3 of them, or about 51% of the 561 1/3 innings the starting staff left to the bullpen to handle.
Most of what was left was chewed up by Louis Coleman, Jose Mijares, and Jonathan Broxton. Mijares and Broxton are no longer with the team, and Coleman is in a battle with Donnie Joseph, Francisley Bueno, Dan Wheeler, and J.C. Gutierrez for the final spot in the bullpen. But losing Broxton and Mijares shouldn’t me a concern, as we’ll see later.
What is the concern is Herrera, Collins, Holland, and Crow and their usage last year. These are the four relievers Ned Yost will count on the most in tight situations and at the end of games, putting their production at a premium. As it were, Kansas City faired fairly well in comparison to the rest of the league in terms of usage of individual relievers.
Out of the 125 true relievers (pitchers with 100% of their appearances coming out of the bullpen) who pitched over 50 innings the Royals had five on the list. This is a surprisingly low number given the amount of innings they were left to fill.
Herrera: 84.1 IP; 3rd in MLB
Collins: 69.2; 34th
Holland: 67; tied 48th
Crow: 64.2; 65th
Coleman: 51; 121st
Notice the Royals only had one pitcher throw an excessive amount of innings relative to the rest of the league, Herrera. Collins finished 34th which seems high until you realize the five innings between him and Crow is 31 spots. There were many relievers in the range of Collins innings.
Herrera’s situation is somewhat concerning. The most innings he had ever thrown professionally was 67 2/3 innings in 2011. The reason why Kansas City decided to convert him to a reliever in the first place was because he couldn’t stay healthy with the large work load given to starters. Hopefully the Royals can better contain his innings given he’s also already pitched in the World Baseball Classic this year.
So how did the Royals bullpen individual pitcher’s innings compare to the rest of baseball last season? It turns out, while the Royals were obviously in the upper third of bullpen usage, they didn’t have to put too much of a burden on certain pitchers to carry them through the year.
Ten major league teams, including five playoff teams, had five or more relievers throw 50 innings or more. Tampa Bay and Colorado each had six relievers throw over 50 innings, one more than the Royals five. And while Kansas City put a huge innings burden on the bullpen, they only had three pitchers top the 1000 pitch mark, which was as many or fewer than 12 other MLB teams. Yes, the Royals had to rely on their bullpen more than any other team in the American League for innings but they were able to distribute the innings well enough to keep the wear and tare down on individual pitchers. At least as well as they could given the situation.
Heading into the 2013 season Kansas City has a revamped starting rotation which should take a lot of pressure off of the bullpen in general. James Shields (6.9 innings per start), Guthrie (6.5 innings per start in KC), Ervin Santana (5.9 innings per start), and Mendoza (5.84 innings per start) will improve the rotation’s chances to go deep into games this season on a consistent basis. The returns of Duffy and Paulino to supplement any holes in the rotation once the All-Star break comes around is also there should KC need it. A need for a pipeline from Omaha to Kansas City to help eat innings should not exist this season.
Luke Hochevar’s move to the bullpen is geared primarily as a middle reliever for now, but he should be able to be extended past one inning when needed. Organizational depth in the minors should also give the Royals an added boost should someone go down. Early season options include the Coleman/Joseph/Bueno/Wheeler/Gutierrez combination, and as the season goes on pitchers like Paulino, Duffy, Kyle Zimmer, and Yordano Ventura may be available if the starting rotation isn’t in a bind for a replacement.
Kansas City racked up a lot of miles on their bullpen last season but they were able to keep things balanced for the most part, and with the new depth in the starting rotation hopefully the bullpen can be used to win games and not just get us through them.