For the Kansas City Royals fanbase accustomed to shut-down bullpens, the 2019 bullpen was difficult to watch, especially early in the season. Player progression should help project the Royals into a much more successful campaign in 2020.
The Kansas City Royals bullpen in 2019 was responsible for 33 out of the team’s 103 losses. Out of the 33 losses suffered by the bullpen, 11 of those came in the early months of the season (March, April, and May). The bullpen finished the 2019 season ranked 27th in ERA, 26th in BB/9, and the 25th in K/9 in the MLB.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Royals bullpen, as they were able to produce 2.5 WAR, good for 16th best in the MLB. The Royals also finished 19th in saves with a save percentage of 61.66%, which was good for 19th best in the league.
Several of the Royals bullpen arms showed progression and consistency down the home stretch of the season and look to build upon that success in 2020. The Royals also went out and acquired a couple of bullpen arms this offseason who are poised to break spring training camp with the major league ballclub.
The 26-man roster (new rule for the 2020 season) only allows for 13 pitchers and the Royals will be expected to carry five starters and eight relievers. Here is my 2020 bullpen prediction pre-Spring Training.
Ian Kennedy RHP – Closer
Ian Kennedy had a strong 2019 season as the main closer option following the first month of the season transitioning full-time into his reliever role. Kennedy converted 30 out of 34 save opportunities, good for ninth most in the MLB. His 88.3% save percentage was fifth best in the league with relievers who had 30 or more save opportunities.
Kennedy pitched to a 3.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 10.37 K/9, and 2.42 BB/9 in 63.1 innings for the Royals in 2019. His fastball (+2.6 mph) and cutter (+3.7 mph) average velocities saw a significant jump with his full-time move to the bullpen. Kennedy also mixed in his curveball as an occasionally off-speed offering all but abandoning his “Vulcan grip” change-up.
There is a lot to like with the one-time 21 game winner remaining in the closer role for the 2020 season. Kennedy showed he was capable of handling the stresses of closing out games in 2019, but his remaining $16.5 million contract will have the Royals looking to trade him near the trade deadline.
The Royals will be hopeful that Kennedy continues his consistency and remains healthy to generate a promising trade return.