Royals Bullpen Back to Being Best


Jun 14, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Tim Collins (55) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Kansas City Royals defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins stomped the Royals. James Shields couldn’t command his fastball and the offense went back into hibernation. Alcides Escobar made up half of the Royals hits. Eric Hosmer made up the other half. The Royals didn’t give fans much to enjoy, but the bullpen continues to dominate.

It’s kind of fuzzy now, looking back to that terrible May for the Royals, when they went 8-20. Nothing went right for them. They didn’t score. Starting pitching struggled. They made errors all the time. Even the bullpen had fallen apart, dropping them below lesser bullpens for best ERA in the AL. However, starting at the beginning of June, they’ve lit up the radar gun and silenced hot offenses to reclaim their rightful place as the most dangerous bullpen in the American League.

Since that time, to make room on the U.S.S. Royals, the club has had to hurl relievers overboard. Despite maintaining a sub-3.00 ERA in AAA, Everett Teaford has only pitched 2/3 of an inning in the majors this season. Donnie Joseph had a similar experience. Buddy Baumann and his 14.1 K/9 would be on most major league rosters, but he can’t squeeze his way into the Royals pen. The Royals designated Francisley Bueno for assignment, despite his 2.93 ERA in AAA. The Royals even had to release J.C. Gutierrez, who has a 94 mph fastball and a 3.36 ERA, because everyone else was better. Louis Coleman took his spot in the bullpen.

Since Coleman was recalled from AAA-Omaha, he hasn’t allowed a run. His stat line is 10 1/3 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 16 K. His odd delivery hides the ball until it’s almost out of his hand. It makes him incapable of tipping his pitches. He also has a good feel for fooling hitters and he strikes them out all the time.

Even though Will Smith will return to AAA to make room for Danny Duffy, he is a common guest star on the Royals show. In his appearance last night, he threw three innings of shutout ball without allowing a baserunner. His fastball also now touches 95 mph. He has a 1.76 ERA in long relief with 15 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings.

Luke Hochevar since the beginning of June has a 0.39 ERA in 23 IP. He’s allowed only 10 hits, 8 BBs, and struck out 23. His cutter is generating weak contact. His fastball has touched 98 mph. 98! When his curveball is thrown for strikes, he is quite literally unhittable. Batters make contact, but the ball either pops up or dribbles to an infielder.

Closer Greg Holland has been as automatic as one could hope for, with 27 saves in 29 opportunities. Since June 1, he’s pitched 26 innings, allowed 14 hits, walked only 4, allowed 3 runs for a 1.04 ERA and struck out an amazing 42 batters.

After getting himself demoted twice, Kelvin Herrera came back after the All-Star Break, having worked as a starter in AAA. The club thought it would help with his pitch sequencing. Since coming back, he’s pitched 11 2/3 innings, allowed 8 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 14 and allowing only 3 ER for a 2.38 ERA. More importantly, he’s only allowed one homerun. He pitched three shutout innings in an extra-inning victory against the Mets for a win. His sequencing work seems to have helped, because he can throw three different pitches for strikes that cover a 20 mph variance.

Tim Collins entered the All Star Break with a 4.86 ERA after being destroyed in appearance after appearance. He’s been mostly sidelined since then, but in his seven appearances, he’s only allowed one run and struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings.

Aaron Crow entered May with a 0.00 ERA and left the month with a 4.80 ERA. He was terrible. He had no command or control of his two-seam fastball. In the 21 innings since, he has a 1.71 ERA and has struck out 23. He has allowed 30 baserunners in that time, but he’s managed to get timely strikeouts.

The only stain on the bullpen’s recent dominance has come from Luis Mendoza, who lost his starting job and could lose his bullpen job if he can’t get outs. Because of Mendoza’s past success from the pen, and being out of options, the Royals are willing to give him a chance. It doesn’t seem to be working. His slider hasn’t been sharp and his fastball is missing the outside corner. In Mendoza’s two relief appearances since losing his spot in the rotation, he allowed seven runs in only five innings. With Will Smith, Chris Dwyer, Everett Teaford, Buddy Baumann, and Donnie Joseph all vying for a permanent place on the roster, he has very little margin for error in his next appearance.

The Royals bullpen currently has a 2.85 ERA in 303 innings pitched with 305 strikeouts–the best in the American League. They might be the difference-maker in series against Boston and Texas, both of whom have great bullpens…just not as good as the Royals’.