KC Royals: Can The Bullpen Continue To Be This Good

To say the KC Royals’ bullpen has been good this year is like calling “Dumb & Dumber” a funny movie. It’s obvious, and it’s an underwhelming statement to say the least.

The amount of laughs Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels brought to the silver screen 20 years ago are equivalent to the frustration Royals’ relievers are causing MLB batters — a lot.

As of Wednesday, Kansas City’s pen is carrying a ridiculous 1.00 ERA though 80 2/3 innings pitched. They have surrendered just nine earned runs, have a 3.4 K/BB ratio, and batters are hitting .154 against them. It’s like the pen is being controlled by some full-time, X-Box gamer in his parent’s basement.

All the while, shut down closer Greg Holland has made a grand total of four appearances on the season after a DL-stint (although it’s possible he could return to the team as early as today). In his absence, set-up cyborg Wade Davis has notched five saves. In 10 innings this year, Davis has yet to give up a run. On top of that, he has yielded just four hits and one walk while striking out 11.

It’s like Mariano Rivera never retired.

When seventh-inning super hero Kelvin Herrera isn’t in the middle of bench-clearing brawls, he has been nearly as dominant. Despite the fact his gaudy 1.74 ERA actually raises the pen’s average, he has given up just two earned runs in 10 1/3 innings. While his walks have been a little high (six, unintentional), he is still striking out batters at a rate of 1.16 per inning.

Everyone knew HDH was going to be great again this year. Even if the trio regressed from a season ago, there was no reason to believe it wasn’t still going to shut down its opponents at an alarming rate. However, the rest of the bullpen was a question.

Jason Frasor was solid last year (1.53 ERA in 23 appearances), but his career ERA is 3.54 and he sports a less-than-ideal 1.30 career WHIP. He hasn’t given up a run in nine innings this season.

Newcomers Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales have been solid relievers in their careers, but nothing like their combined 1.57 ERA and 20 strikeouts to just four walks.

Chris Young, brought in as a mop-up and spot-start guy, has given up just two runs in 9 2/3 relief innings, and pitched no-hit ball through five innings last week in a start against the Tigers.

Is there anything these guys can’t do?

The 2014 AL Wild Card hero Brandon Finnegan has been the “worst” reliever so far, sporting a 2.25 ERA. If he’s not careful he’s going to become an outcast with the rest of the guys — carry an ERA above 3.00 on this team, and you’ll be hauling everyone’s bags on road trips for the rest of the season.

Even Yohan Pino, the 31-year-old who allowed 34 runs in 60 1/3 innings last season, hasn’t let a runner touch home plate this year in 10 2/3 innings of work. It’s like pitching coach Dave Eiland has threatened them with horrible consequences if they allow a run.

That, or they are just really good and have a great defense behind them.

The question now is can these guys keep it up?

The short answer is most likely “no,” at least in terms of ERA. No pen has ever come close in the modern ERA to a 1.00 ERA, and common sense says it will only go up. Their WHIP of .78 is not far off from Houston’s .84, and their MLB-best batting average against of .154 is comparable to the Yankees’ .169.

The Royals’ defense is on pace to shatter the all-time record for Defensive Runs Saved, a fairly new Sabremetric stat that measures how good a defensive player, or unit, is, and is explained as easily as QB rating. Their pace will most likely drop, although it should still lead all of MLB.

The point is nearly every Royals’ pitcher is performing better than their career averages of ERA, WHIP, K/BB ratio, etc. through 25 games. In reality, that pace should not hold up through 162 contests. However, it has been so good that even a regression doesn’t mean it will cost the Royals many losses. It’s like hitting a Grand Slam in the ninth inning of a time game, as opposed to a solo shot. Both win the game for you, but the Grand Slam is more impressive.

Holland may blow a save, Davis may even give up an extra-base hit or two, and Finnegan could show his youth from time to time, but this bullpen is the best in the Majors, and it’s going to stay that way.

The task they have in front of them is trying to become so great, that two decades from now people are still talking about them like a classic movie.

*Here’s a look at just how good the bullpen as been for Kansas City through 25 games. Stats compiled from ESPN.com. 

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