In 2011, the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen threw 508 combined innings. That number was the eighth highest in all of baseball (Baltimore led the way with 565 innings, the Rays pitched the fewest with just 391). Going into 2012, most people would assume, correctly I believe, that this year’s pen will likely throw a similar number of innings.
As good as the bullpen was in 2011 and is likely to be in 2012, the less Ned Yost needs to use the pen the better. That is one of the most obvious statements in baseball and the reason that an average starting pitcher makes way more than an average outfielder and, even more so, the reason horrible starting pitchers get multiple chances.
Five hundred innings is a load no matter how you slice it. A seven man pen has to average over 71 innings per pitcher to reach the 500 mark: that is just not going to happen. The Royals, as will every other team, will use more than seven relievers in 2012 no matter if they need 500 innings or 400 innings of relief work. Still, if the starters can go just one out farther than last year in every game (one freaking out), that translates into 54 fewer innings the bullpen will have to pitch. That translates into just under 65 innings per man in a seven man pen.
Last season, Joakim Soria, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Greg Holland and Aaron Crow all pitched at least 60 innings out of the pen. Combined they threw 378 total innings and that was with Wood, Holland and Coleman all spending some time in Omaha.
Projecting forward to 2012, one would have to think that a combination of Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Holland and Coleman will provide a minimum of 250 innings of work. The Royals would be halfway to 500 with just their best (theoretically) four relievers. When you have a roster where you are four deep in your bullpen before you have mentioned Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, and two guys (Wood and Collins) who threw almost 70 innings a piece for you in 2011, that is a pretty sweet situation. It makes 500 innings seem pretty doable and gives one hope that a high percentage of those 500 innings will be quality appearances.
The missing Jose Mijares comes into play, as does valuable swingman Everett Teaford who could gobble up innings in big chunks and do so more effectively that Jimmy Gobble ever did. (Sorry, too easy). Also coming into play would be Luis Mendoza should the Royals opt to both keep him and not give him a rotation spot. All that, and we have not even mentioned non-roster invitees (seems like one always makes the bullpen to start the season, doesn’t it?) or any of the talented minor league arms still populating the AAA and AA bullpens.
The Royals will likely be demanding a ton of relief innings this season. Going with a seven man pen, as Ned Yost mentioned yesterday, will require some shuffling of tired arms to the minors throughout the season. Other than the top four guys mentioned above, I can see almost every pitcher spending some time in Omaha (mostly watching) as the team keeps the bullpen fresh throughout the summer and it would have nothing to do with how effective they are.
The good news is that Kansas City has the arms to just about flat-out abuse the bullpen and still enjoy effective relief pitching for the entire 2012 season. To be honest, I am not sure the model of a suspect starting rotation being overcome by a dominating bullpen is one that leads to true contention, but the Royals are more than stocked to give a go.