Thursday, April 5, 2012

The 2012 Royals: The Bullpen

Hard to believe Opening Day is upon us, but it's true. Here's a look at the bullpen for the Royals heading into the season.

Where the Royals' rotation is full of questions, the bullpen looks to be full of answers. This group looks to be the deepest on the team. Want proof? Consider Louis Coleman, who had a 2.87 ERA, 64 Ks, 26 BBs and only allowed 44 hits in 59 2/3 innings pitched. One bad spring, and he's in Omaha to start the season. And this is a group that is without Blake Wood and Joakim Soria.

Speaking of Soria, it looks like his closer job will be handled by Jonathan Broxton most of the time, and Greg Holland the rest of the time. I'm perfectly fine with this arrangement. The Royals are unlikely to push Broxton too hard, as he had an elbow injury last year. While the concept of a closer is overrated, it doesn't hurt to have someone who's been successful at it. Meanwhile, Holland will probably get a few save chances here and there, which I like for three reasons: I have complete confidence he's good enough to handle it, it will be good experience for him down the road in case Soria doesn't come back, and there's a good chance he'll pitch in higher-leverage situations than Broxton a lot.

While Holland will be the primary setup man, I expect Aaron Crow to be used in that role sometimes, too. That's All-Star Aaron Crow to you. It's true Crow had a bad second half last year, but he still had a decent year overall: 2.76 ERA, 55 hits, 65 Ks, 31 BBs in 62 innings. My only concern with Crow is that at some point, the Royals need to give him a chance to be a starting pitcher. It's not necessarily easy to find good relievers, but it's easier than finding good starters. I have doubts about Crow's ability to be a good starter based on his minor league struggles, but the Royals really need to find out for sure. This is a first-round pick we're talking about here, and you don't draft those guys to be relievers normally. If it doesn't work out, he can always go back to the bullpen. I'm not holding my breath, but I believe trying Crow in the rotation would be the best thing to do.

Every bullpen needs a good lefty, and the Royals look to have two. Jose Mijares is more of a lefty specialist, but he's been quite good at it. Or he was until last year, anyway, when apparently his control deserted him. Still, you have to think the two solid years before last year are more the norm. If not, Everett Teaford may get more chances in the lefty specialist role. Right now, Teaford looks like more of a long reliever. I would hate for Teaford to get pigeonholed as a lefty specialist because I think he has a chance to be a decent starter.

That leaves Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins. Herrera only pitched in two games for the Royals last year, but had an outstanding year in the minors, so good that he climbed all the way to the majors after starting the year in Class A. But he is still a rookie, so I wouldn't look for him to get put in too many key situations. That's OK, he can get acclimated to the majors and get some work in low-leverage situations. I imagine he will be the first reliever sent out when Wood or Felipe Paulino are ready to come back from their injuries, though. Collins' biggest issue is control--if he cuts down on his 48 walks from last year, he could have a very good year. He's still young enough (22) that you have to think his control will improve. It's funny, the narrative on Collins is that, although he is a lefty, he struggles against left-handed hitters. Yet if you look at his splits from last year, lefties had a lower batting average (.221 to .210) and much lower slugging percentage (.353 to .305) than righties. Yet Collins walked more left-handers than he struck out (29 to 27). That trend was reversed against right-handed hitters, with 33 strikeouts and 19 walks. I really have no idea what to make of this--it could be small sample size, or just a young pitcher not entirely trusting his stuff. It will be interesting to see if he can continue having some success against lefties this year.

Like I said when discussing the starting rotation, this bullpen is good enough that if the starters can keep the Royals in games for 6-7 innings, the team can be successful. Even without Soria, I have a lot of confidence in this bullpen.

Up next: real, actual baseball. Enjoy it, everyone!

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