A Bargain For Relief

Editors note: This originally was on Royals Review a week ago, so obviously a few of the names mentioned have signed with teams since then.

On Thursday, one of the bigger reliever names out on the free agent market, David Robertson, agreed to a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. With the Robertson signing, it would appear the rest of the relief pitchers available this winter might start following suit and see a bit of movement in what has been a pretty tepid Hot Stove this winter.

That would mean names like Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton could start falling off the board. Even a former Royal, Kelvin Herrera could find a home and get ready for the upcoming season. These are all great relievers and guys that any team would love at their disposal in the late innings with the game on the line. But these are also all names that won’t be coming to Kansas City.

Because while the Royals are in search of help in their bullpen, the help they are looking for is, well, could we say, [ahem] cheaper. In fact, Jeffrey Flanagan wrote about what GM Dayton Moore is looking for to bolster the pen this offseason:


Typically, some bullpen arms hold out through January in hopes of landing $5 million or $6 million deals. When there are no takers, that’s when the bargains come. Expect Moore to land a veteran arm or two in the $2 million range to bolster a bullpen that clearly was the weakest link on the 2018 team.

So if Dayton will be roaming the bargain bin over the next couple of months, who should he be keeping tabs on? While this is never a perfect science, there are a few lesser known names on the market that could be had to fill out the rest of the Royals bullpen.

Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Blake Parker

Parker would appear to be a great candidate for a bounce-back season in 2019. Parker saw a slight increase across the board when it comes to HR per 9, hard hit rate and walk rate, but there were a few hints that a turn around is possible. Parker saw an increase in his BABIP, which at times can be attributed to a bit of luck and he also appeared to strand runners at a higher rate.

Maybe most intriguing is a pitch he started utilizing more near the end of the season. Here is former Angels bullpen coach Scott Radinsky talking about some of those results:


“He started to utilize his breaking ball a little more toward the end of the year, and a lot of that had to do with data. His breaking ball was just as good to righties and lefties, so we told him, ‘Don’t be afraid to use it.’ Blake has been around the league for a bit, so guys knew it was going to be either fastball or split. When he started throwing that breaking ball in there — and not just in early counts, but late counts as well — he froze a lot of batters.”

Parker is a durable veteran that could be a good fit on a team like the Royals, looking for some value at a cheaper price.

Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Cory Gearrin

Gearrin is another reliever who saw his numbers go up where they shouldn’t but not enough to scare teams away. While pitching for three teams last year (Giants, Rangers and A’s), Gearrin put together a pretty pedestrian season that at the least saw his walk rate improve.

His velocity appears to be on par with previous years and the possibility of a new, steady home with some stellar defense might be a good fit. For Gearrin, his 2018 might have been just a case of too many environments in a short amount of time.

Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Wilson

Wilson is a familiar name for some Royals fans, as he has been toiling in Detroit since 2015. Wilson is a bit different than some of the other names on this list, as he actually improved a lot of his numbers this past season and has proven to be a durable and reliable arm out of the pen. A great description of Wilson was given a few weeks back by David Laurila over at Fangraphs, who writes a weekly ‘Sunday Notes’ column that I try to never miss:


He’s not one of bigger names available, but Alex Wilson will almost assuredly add value to one of the 30 MLB teams next season. The reliable reliever was non-tendered by the Detroit Tigers this past week, despite a track record of dependability and durability. In four seasons with the AL Central club, Wilson averaged 62 appearances annually and had a more-than-respectable 3.20 ERA. Heading into his age-32 campaign, the Hurricane, West Virginia product represents a cost-effective option for teams in want of a no-frills bullpen depth.

If Moore is looking for a reliable, veteran piece for the Royals pen, he could do a lot worse than Wilson.

Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Clippard

Clippard will be entering his age 34 season in 2019 and is a reliever who has pretty much done everything out of the pen throughout his career. Clippard is coming off of a solid campaign where he tossed 68.2 innings for Toronto, posting a 3.67 ERA and 0.5 fWAR.

In fact, it’s a bit surprising Clippard hasn’t seen more action this winter. 2018 saw him raise his strike outs and lower his walks while stranding runners at a higher clip. Clippard tends to allow a bit more fly balls than those on the ground, which could be a benefit if he wanted to come to Kansas City.

I would expect Clippard to have at the least moderate interest from other teams, but taking a flyer on Clippard at the right price could be a good call for Kansas City.

Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

There were a couple other relievers that the Royals might want to at least keep their eye on over the next couple of months. One is the Royals former closer Greg Holland. Holland was absolutely putrid for St. Louis last year but saved some face late in the year for Washington.

During his short run for the Nationals, Holland posted a 0.84 ERA, 510 ERA+ and 1.3 bWAR in 24 games. More than likely Holland will be too pricey for Kansas City’s blood, but if he is still hanging around once camp opens it could be interesting to see just how low he would sign for.

The other name of interest is Drew Hutchison. Drew hasn’t had a full season in the big leagues since 2015 and is still just 28 years of age. It’s very apparent Hutchison would be a reclamation project for whichever team signs him this winter and more than likely would just be brought in on a minor league deal.

One has to wonder what a healthy Hutchison could do, whether it be as a reliever or even a starter. I’ve always been intrigued by him and he could be a perfect candidate as someone who the Royals could stow in Omaha for part of the summer and see if he regains some of his old spark.

Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

So those are just a few names that I tend to think could help the Royals and be brought in fairly cheap. More than anything it doesn’t look like we will see a signing in the immediate future:


Royals general manager Dayton Moore has only a few million to spend to keep under his targeted payroll limit of $92 million, so expect Moore to be patient with the relievers market and wait until Spring Training nears before he makes his move.

At some point though, the Royals will need to add some arms for the bullpen. The question at this point appears to be who will still be available once Moore finally decides to strike.

Advertisements

The State of the Royals Bullpen

kc11
Credit: Getty Images

We were spoiled. Wade Davis. Greg Holland. HDH. 

Throughout 2014 and 2015, the Royals bullpen was out of this world. Looking back, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Kansas City was able to dominate the way they did and shut down opposing teams in the postseason. The honest truth is that the Royals pen of that era was a ‘once in a lifetime’ group that we might never see again. Sure, it feels like every team in baseball is trying to copy the Royals’ blueprint (Hello, Rockies!) but who knows if we see that level of domination in both the regular season AND the postseason again. 

But what that group taught us is that success can be fleeting. The last two years, the Royals bullpen has been a shell of those playoff teams when the honesty of the situation is that the Royals had slid back into the norm. Many fans expected dominance all the time, not realizing how irregular the numbers were that those bullpens were putting up.  The truth? The Royals bullpen the last two years has been a very average group, or in other words…normal.

kc12
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers in 2017 speak of just how average they were: 3.9 fWAR, 4.24 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 20.4% strike out rate, 10.0% walk rate. These numbers placed the Royals pen in either the middle of the pack or closer to the bottom of the American League. While the pen did post a 4.20 WPA last year (good enough for 5th best in the AL), they also put up a 1.64 RE24, putting them down to 10th in the league. In other words, while this group had some positives, they had just as many (if not more) negatives to cancel out the good they were doing.

So what does the bullpen have moving forward? To be honest, the pen is in a bit of disarray. Scott Alexander and Joakim Soria have been traded. Kelvin Herrera has been mentioned as a trade possibility and logic will tell you that the Royals should look further into dealing him. He is coming into the last year of his contract and will be making a substantial amount of money for a reliever on a rebuilding team.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Herrera is the interesting case, as he is coming off of a very roller coaster season. Herrera saw his strike out rate decline (30.4% to 21.6%), his walk rate shoot up (4.2% to 7.7%), and his home run to fly ball rate took a step up as well (10.0% to 14.5%). Many expected his transition to the closers role to be an easy move, while instead it turned into a nightmare and he had been displaced by the end of the season. 

So did anything go right for Herrera? Not really. His numbers almost across the board went in the opposite direction and the only (somewhat) positive to find was an increase in his velocity. Almost all across the board was an increase: his sinker, slider, change-up,  and curve all saw an uptick…except for his cutter, which took a dive from averaging 96 MPH to 90.4 MPH.

The argument could be made that this could have very well been his downfall, as Herrera was using the cutter at a greater rate last year, from 0.1% to 8.1%. He was also using his fastball at a higher rate (56.4% to 66.9%) and while it is a plus pitch, it has always been his ability to mix in his off-speed stuff and breaking balls that pushed his success. Those off-speed pitches were used less in 2017, and a re-focus on their usage could bring success to Herrera in the upcoming year.

All that being said, it feels like the time to deal him. Herrera could see a pay increase from arbitration and with the Royals looking to rebuild, there is not much need to keep him around. He will be going into his age 28 season and it would make more sense to deal him now and continue rebuilding the pen.

kc14
Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

So how does the rest of the pen shake out? Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter (two of the pitchers acquired from San Diego over the summer) will be back for their first full season in Kansas City and one would have to think their numbers would improve upon their short stint in KC so far. Maurer is an interesting option, as his plus fastball can be a difference maker. A number of scouts have suggested that Maurer would be better suited in the set-up role, (rather than as the closer he was in San Diego) and if he can command his control, we could see improvement from him in 2018. 

There are a number of other arms that could be interesting options for the pen this year. Kevin McCarthy had a solid rookie season and Andres Machado could be an interesting arm if he isn’t in the minors as a starter. Brad Keller and Burch Smith were acquired in trades after being picked in the Rule 5 draft and could add some depth to the back-end of the pen. Wily Peralta was signed earlier this offseason and while he has struggled the last couple seasons, he still has an electric fastball and could be a pet project for new pitching coach Cal Eldred. Scott Barlow is another interesting option that was signed by Kansas City this winter and could be a nice fit for the Royals in middle relief :

“Today, Barlow’s heater sits in the low 90s, but his out-pitch is a plus-slider which normally comes in between 78 and 82 MPH. He also throws a curve in the low 70s and changeup in the low 80s to compliment his off-speed arsenal.”

Barlow is also on the 40-man roster, so he should be given a bigger opportunity to secure a main roster spot this spring.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics

A number of minor leaguers could also see action this year, names like Tim Hill, Eric Stout and yes, Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer could be an intriguing option out of the pen if (and stop me if you’ve heard this one) he can stay healthy, while Josh Staumont could also make the case for a job if he can harness some of his control issues. The one name I expect to hear from in 2018 is Richard Lovelady, who compiled a great season in 2017. John Sickels of minorleagueball.com had this to say about Lovelady:

10th round pick in 2016 from Kennesaw State; 1.62 ERA with 77/17 K/BB in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A; fastball up to 96, good slider, usually throws strikes, command and stuff good enough to avoid LOOGY work, might get to close games eventually if command holds; as usual, rating/grading relievers is problematic due to difficulties in valuation but he should be a good one. 

There are options in the minor league system and a number of arms could be given opportunities in the upcoming season. 

For a team that is not going to be a contender, I almost lean toward the Royals going with a bullpen by committee this season. This would allow them to see what they have as the season progresses and I’m a proponent of using your best pitchers in the best situations. The closer role in general feels outdated and it would be nice to see the Royals shuffle their pitchers around according to what is going on with the game. The reality is that Ned Yost appears to prefer having set roles for his relievers and outside of 2015 and the postseason, has used them in their roles. There was some shuffling late last year, but that felt more like a reaction to Herrera’s struggles and the injuries they had been dealt. So while it would be nice to see a more “hands on deck” approach, we shouldn’t count on seeing it in the near future.

kc16
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The bullpen in its current state feels a bit weak but they still have time to work on that this offseason. There are a number of options on the free agent market this winter, but few that really pop out. Drew Hutchison interests me, as he could be a nice reclamation project and could see an uptick in velocity, as he would be shifting from being a starter to a reliever. Moore could easily sign a few guys like that to minor league deals, bring them into camp and see what they can do. The options are endless right now and it would be smart for the team to think outside the box. The focus was once on building a better bullpen to compensate for a weak rotation. It might be time to take that route once again.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑