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Deconstructing The Process

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If you have been around long enough or, at least, hung around some old guys and not spent that entire time making sure you displayed to the old guys how much more intelligent you are, then you might well have heard tales of a long extinct creature called the nine man pitching staff.  NINE (9).  Hell, I bet they even brought up a four man rotation! Those were the days, my friend.

Even within the last twenty-five years, starting pitchers were racking up 250 innings per year with at least some degree of regularity.  Go back a decade or two more and check the innings pitched.  Worried about James Shields pitching too many innings?  Steve Busby and Dennis Leonard sneer at you.  Let’s not kid ourselves, Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza even sneer.

The five man (or even four at times) bullpens are gone forever.  Now, it seems, carrying just six relievers makes many managers edgy.  Seven is/has become the norm and now, here were are on the first official day of Spring and no one in Surprise has come out and said ‘No, carry eight relievers is crazy.’   Maybe it is not, but it does beg the question as to how much you really – really – use those last couple of relievers.

In 2014, 102 relievers appeared in at least 30 games for American League clubs.  Thirty appearances is a arbitrary number – more than Eric Kratz will appear this year – but at least seems like a reasonable number to use for something equating to a ‘full time reliever’.  By that clumsy approach, 102 pitchers for fifteen teams is almost exactly a seven man bullpen for each squad.  Of course, thirty appearances is basically pitching once per week plus one extra appearance.

If a reliever threw 10 times in a month, would you consider him overworked?  Short of going three innings a stint, I would not.  That level of game involvement would equate to 60 appearances per season.  Fifty-one pitchers made that many relief appearances.  However, innings matter, so let’s ratchet down to 45 appearances and we have 75 ‘full-time’ relievers or five per team. From a purely ‘feels right’ perspective, it seems as though most teams lean on five main relievers with an often carousel of junk, situational, warm-body types filling out the last two spots.  That does not mean you don’t need those sixth and seventh guys, it simply shows you don’t need them as often.

Overall, there were 7,225 relief appearances in the American League last season, totaling 7,338 innings.  That averages out to 482 appearances and 489 relief innings per team.  The Royals used 451 total relief appearances to log 462 innings.

Holland, Davis and Herrera appeared in 65, 71 and 70 games respectively, with Aaron Crow pitching in another 67 (no comment).   After those four, the next most used reliever was Louis Coleman, who pitched 34 innings over 31 games.  He was closely followed by Francisley Bueno’s 30 games and 32 innings.  Let’s take a liberty or two here and combine the mid-season acquisitions of Jason Frasor (23 appearances) and Scott Downs (17 appearances) with Coleman and Bueno.  That would give Kansas City’s ‘fifth’ reliever (Coleman/Frasor) a season total of 54 games and 52 innings.  The Bueno-Downs sixth reliever would have totaled 47 appearances and 47 innings.

Now, the Royals are down to Tim Collins (22 appearances), Michael Mariot (17) and Casey Coleman (10).  Combined, that is 49 appearances and 58 innings for the seventh reliever.   So, exactly when does the eighth guy pitch?  Frankly, with Holland, Davis, Herrera, Frasor, Young and, come mid-April, Hochevar, when does the SEVENTH guy pitch?

If the meat of the Royals’ bullpen even approaches the level of effectiveness as last year, the team could carry (a.k.a HIDE) Rule 5 Jandel Gustave as the seventh reliever, not the eighth, and give themselves some flexibility on the bench with an extra position player.  As I wrote earlier in the week (or was it Craig?  we can’t tell each other apart), Ned Yost is not exactly prone to making a lot of in-game maneuvers with his position players, but it would be at least nice to have some options to debate on Twitter.

Eight relievers?  Seemed silly in February, seems even sillier now.

 

 

Assuming, it is a pretty big assumption right now, that Omar Infante is healthy, you know exactly what the Royals’ 2015 starting lineup is going to be and the starting rotation AND the first five guys in the bullpen.

A bad elbow and mending wrist notwithstanding, this is your 2015 Kansas City Royals:

C – Salvador Perez, 1B – Eric Hosmer, 2B – Omar Infante, SS – Alcides Escobar, 3B- Mike Moustakas, LF – Alex Gordon, CF – Lorenzo Cain, RF – Alex Rios, DH – Kendrys Morales

Starting Rotation – Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie

Bullpen – Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor and Chris Young

Bench Locks – Jarrod Dyson and Eric Kratz

That is twenty-one players locked in to the roster and, honestly, the twenty-one that are going to play and pitch the most.  One could make the argument (again, not factoring in injuries) that whatever the Royals decide to do with the remaining four spots will have little impact on how the season plays out. That may very well be true and it could mean good things or bad things for how this team will perform in 2015. Time will tell, duh, and this isn’t my ‘if this goes right and this goes right and that breaks just right’ column, nor is it time for Craig’s ‘if this happens it will be bad and then that will bad and then I’m going to spend the summer tweeting about soccer’ column.

Back to the roster for now.

As we discussed yesterday, a third bench spot is likely destined to be Christian Colon’s, but it could end up in the hands (or is it the rear?) of Ryan Jackson or Ryan Roberts.  Somebody to spell Infante and maybe Moustakas against a tough lefty now and then.  A guy you can put in if Alcides Escobar gets spiked at second and has to sit out his three innings per year.  Now we are at twenty-two.

With more and more rumblings pointing towards Luke Hochevar not being quite ready for the start of the season and non-roster invitee (and lefty) Franklin Morales pitching well, it would seem the Royals will break camp with two Morales on the roster.  That’s twenty-three.

We also know that few teams, if any, can seem to function without a seven man bullpen and the Royals are absolutely on board with that.  Frankly, I am not sure I have ever heard a manager worry more about overusing his bullpen than Ned Yost does. Hell, I don’t know, maybe he’s right in doing so. Bottom line:  the Royals will carry at least seven relievers and that, to me, indicates that the out of options Louis Coleman will get at least a temporary reprieve and stay with the team to start the season.  I would advise a extended stay hotel as opposed to an apartment, Louis, as it would seem that Luke Hochevar’s return would knock Coleman from the 25 man roster.  Coleman or maybe Ryan Madson or Brian Flynn or Yohan Pino…one of those guys gets this spot and now we are at twenty-four.

Wait, wait, wait, you say?!  What about Rule 5 guy Jandel Gustave.  He of the 100 mile per hour fastball who must stay on the major league roster all season to remain a Royal?  Go back to my previous paragraph about Ned Yost and bullpen usage.  In a season where Kansas City intends to compete for the division title, do you think Ned will want his seventh spot – however, unused it might realistically be – occupied by a guy he doesn’t really want to pitch unless up 10 or down 10?  Couple that mentality with Dayton Moore’s valuation of inventory (i.e. what if Louis Coleman goes somewhere else and pitches 31 good innings?) and I think Gustave goes north ONLY as the reliever number eight.

Now, the Royals are at twenty five guys and only three of them are bench players and one of those is Jarrod Dyson, who you would like to use as a late inning weapon on the basepaths or for defense.  Or would you?

I seriously doubt whether the Royals will remove Alex Rios for defense early on this year.  I mean, messing with domes and such.  Go back up and look at the starting lineup.  Who in that list would you pinch-run for?  Before your answer, keep in mind the premium that Yost puts on defense and that Colon is likely a downgrade defensively from the starters at second, short and third.  Ned is probably not pulling Perez, Moustakas or Infante for a runner unless one of them is on representing the tying or winning run in the bottom of the ninth (maybe you throw Rios in there, but he runs pretty good…and domes, you know).

If Dyson is going to be a seldom used pinch-runner and a possibly never used (at least for a the first month or so) defensive replacement then do the Royals need a four man bench?  Yost is not going to pinch hit and he is not going to platoon.  Really, the bench comes down to giving guys a day off here and there.  A team that is not going to use its bench for in game strategy does not need very many guys sitting on it.

It remains possible that Yost will surprise me.  He might pinch run Dyson often.  He might tell Rios to live with it and play Dyson in the field every eighth and ninth inning of the season.  He might pinch hit for Moustakas and sit Infante often (Ned might not have a choice there).  He might….

More likely, however, is the Royals breaking camp with eight relievers or, at least, going to eight relievers as soon as Luke Hochevar is ready to join the big league team in mid to late April.  At least Eric Kratz will have room to spread out and be comfortable as he watches 140 games this year.

 

 

Young is a fastball/slider pitcher who will occasionally mix in a change-up. His average fastball is clocked at 84 or 85 mph. As you are probably saying to yourself at this moment, “I bet he doesn’t miss many bats with that kind of velo,” you would be correct. He got a swing and miss on 7.1 percent of all swings last year. That’s Jeremy Guthrie-esque. (Guthrie has a swing and miss rate of 7.2 percent.) For some league-wide perspective, Young’s swing and miss rate was the 13th lowest among 88 qualified starting pitchers.

Generally, it’s a good idea to miss bats. I say generally, because there are exceptions. One of those exceptions is if you have a quality defense behind you, scooping up all those inevitable balls in play. Another exception would be if you pitch in a pitcher-friendly environment where your fly balls are more apt to stay in the yard. Young had both those things working for him last year in Seattle.

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS IP H R ER ERA+ FIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2004 25 TEX 3 2 .600 4.71 7 7 36.1 36 21 19 107 5.06 8.9 1.7 2.5 6.7
2005 26 TEX 12 7 .632 4.26 31 31 164.2 162 84 78 108 3.80 8.9 1.0 2.5 7.5
2006 27 SDP 11 5 .688 3.46 31 31 179.1 134 72 69 117 4.60 6.7 1.4 3.5 8.2
2007 ★ 28 SDP 9 8 .529 3.12 30 30 173.0 118 66 60 128 3.43 6.1 0.5 3.7 8.7
2008 29 SDP 7 6 .538 3.96 18 18 102.1 84 46 45 96 4.40 7.4 1.1 4.2 8.2
2009 30 SDP 4 6 .400 5.21 14 14 76.0 70 47 44 73 5.49 8.3 1.4 4.7 5.9
2010 31 SDP 2 0 1.000 0.90 4 4 20.0 10 2 2 416 3.88 4.5 0.5 5.0 6.8
2011 32 NYM 1 0 1.000 1.88 4 4 24.0 12 5 5 199 4.32 4.5 1.1 4.1 8.3
2012 33 NYM 4 9 .308 4.15 20 20 115.0 119 58 53 92 4.50 9.3 1.3 2.8 6.3
2014 35 SEA 12 9 .571 3.65 30 29 165.0 143 70 67 100 5.02 7.8 1.4 3.3 5.9
10 Yrs 65 52 .556 3.77 189 188 1055.2 888 471 442 107 4.38 7.6 1.2 3.4 7.4
162 Game Avg. 12 9 .556 3.77 34 34 190 160 85 80 107 4.38 7.6 1.2 3.4 7.4
SDP (5 yrs) 33 25 .569 3.60 97 97 550.2 416 233 220 110 4.29 6.8 1.0 3.9 8.0
NYM (2 yrs) 5 9 .357 3.76 24 24 139.0 131 63 58 101 4.47 8.5 1.2 3.0 6.6
TEX (2 yrs) 15 9 .625 4.34 38 38 201.0 198 105 97 108 4.03 8.9 1.2 2.5 7.3
SEA (1 yr) 12 9 .571 3.65 30 29 165.0 143 70 67 100 5.02 7.8 1.4 3.3 5.9
NL (7 yrs) 38 34 .528 3.63 121 121 689.2 547 296 278 108 4.33 7.1 1.1 3.7 7.7
AL (3 yrs) 27 18 .600 4.03 68 67 366.0 341 175 164 104 4.48 8.4 1.3 2.8 6.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/8/2015.

Looking at his stats, Young seems the picture of a very average starting pitcher. When he is healthy. His injury report is enough to make the most hardened baseball observer cringe. He had shoulder surgery in August 2009, which caused him to miss the rest of the season. He missed most of 2010 with a sprain in the anterior capsule of his shoulder and missed most of 2011 when he had a second shoulder surgery to repair the anterior capsule. He spent 2013 in the Nationals system where his season was cut short by another shoulder surgery designed to remove pressure on a nerve. No pitcher wants to have their shoulder cut open. It’s difficult enough to come back from one. Three? Tip of the cap to Young. The guy is obviously a competitive animal.

Young usually starts batters with his fastball. In fact, it’s his first offer 85 percent of the time to lefties and 70 percent of the time to same-side batters. He stays with the fastball if he falls behind, but will show slider when he’s ahead in the count. He will mix in a change against left-handed batters, but will rarely throw one against hitters from the right side.

Both fastball and slider yield a ton of fly balls. Last summer, Young got a fly ball almost 59 percent of the time the ball was put in play. That was the highest fly ball rate in the majors, and it wasn’t even close. Second place belonged to our old friend Jake Odorizzi who’s fly ball rate was just under 49 percent. That’s right. A ten point gap between Young and the rest of the field. That’s not some anomaly. Young’s fly ball rate has been in the mid-fifties nearly every season since 2006. His career fly ball rate is 55 percent.

It’s easy to see why Young is such a fly ball pitcher. For one, velocity. For two, it’s all about the location. From Brooks Baseball, here is a chart illustrating the location of all pitches Young threw in 2014.

Young_pitches

He works up in the zone and on the left side of the plate. (Meaning he’s inside to right-handed batters.) Despite what Uncle Hud may tell you, pitching up in the zone doesn’t necessarily mean you are a fly ball pitcher. In fact, the red concentration in the upper left corner is an area where Young generates a bunch of ground balls. It would seem left-handed batters reach and roll their wrists for the pitch up and off the plate which results in a few more worm-burners. But for Young, those pitches up inside the strike zone do help his amazingly high fly ball rate.

Let’s be real for a moment. If there is any team in baseball that could be defined as “the perfect fit” for Young, it’s the Royals. The high-acreage outfield, the tremendous outfield defense, the infielders who can snag pop-ups of all shapes and sizes. Kudos to the Royals for looking at the market and, while there may not be an immediate need, they recognized the fit. He’s in the fold and should one of the top five starters fall early in the year, Young is clearly the next in line. That’s just good roster management. And that’s something you haven’t often read from me about this team.

Young signed for a base salary of $675,000. There are enough incentive clauses built into his contract that, should he hit them all, he would net around $6 million. According to The Star, Young can earn $1 million in service time bonuses. That’s $250k for making the Opening Day roster along with another quarter million for each of 30, 60 and 90 days on the roster. He can pocket $1.975 million in bonuses for innings pitched and $2.35 million in bonuses for games pitched. I like this kind of deal. It’s a, “Yeah, we know you are a starter but we don’t have room for another starter, so why don’t you come here for less money, and if you do end up in the rotation we will make it right” kind of contract.

Dayton Moore has informed the world that Young will make the team out of spring training. Knowing the Royals rotation is set at this point, barring injury, Young will debut for his new club out of the bullpen. That brings up some interesting bullpen calculus. We know the locks (Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor, and now Young.) If Luke Hochevar is healthy and ready to go, he’s there too. That’s six arms for what should be seven spots. There’s Rule 5 draftee Jandel Gustave to consider. And also Louis Coleman who is out of options. Of course we can’t forget about Brandon Finnegan. (Although the hope remains the Royals will do the right thing and send him to the minors to continue his development as a starter.)

Could the Royals go with an eight-man bullpen? That would be insanity, but the Royals don’t always do the conventional when it comes to roster management. I bet they will. At least at the start of the season, to keep Coleman on the roster so they have less of a risk of losing him on waivers should they send him down after that first week.

Either way, Young will open the season in Kansas City on a team-friendly deal that will pay him appropriately should he find himself in the rotation. It’s a shrewd move that brings this team some depth in the rotation.

Wade Davis is the key to The Trade.

I’m convinced I wrote something like that. Probably about two years ago. And I probably thought I was damn clever. After all, the Royals had James Shields for only two years before he was moving on to greener free agent pastures. The Royals hold three affordable team options on Davis, who would be with the club for five years total if they are exercised. Yes, that made him the key to the trade.

Let’s get right to the numbers. Because they are damn impressive.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G SV IP H R ER HR BB SO BF ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2014 KCR 9 2 .818 1.00 71 3 72.0 38 8 8 0 23 109 279 399 1.19 0.847 4.8 0.0 2.9 13.6 4.74
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/17/2015.

I mean… Just look at those. Then look at them again. They are almost impossible to comprehend. They’re video game numbers. That’s it. Wade Davis set the difficulty level to “rookie” and played an entire season.

It’s the Wade Davis Experience.

Davis scrapped his sinker, relying on his fastball, curve and cutter.

DavisUsage

The fastball has gained a couple ticks of velocity since moving full-time to the bullpen. His heater averaged 91-92 mph as a starter. Last year as a reliever, he brought the fastball at 96.7 mph. It’s a true weapon, generating a swing and miss over 16 percent of the time. As you can see from the graph above, it gained velocity as the season progressed. Opposing hitters managed just a .161 batting average against his fastball and in 135 at bats that resolved with that pitch, Davis yielded just three extra base hits – a pair of doubles and a triple.

The cutter is a ground ball machine. Over 73 percent of the balls put in play on his cutter are ground balls. Is it any surprise that opposing hitters managed a minute .115 batting average against. Oh, and not a single batter managed an extra base hit against the cutter. Davis features the pitch to both lefties and right-handed batters, but it’s his go-to secondary pitch to same side batters when he’s ahead in the count. Doesn’t matter that hitters may know what’s coming. They’re not going to touch that pitch.

And the curve? It features the 12-to-6 break and like the cutter, is an infielder’s friend. Davis gets a ground ball on about 63 percent of his curves put in play. That’s the pitch he throws to left-handed batters when he’s ahead in the count.

I try to avoid hyperbole, but I’m not sure we have seen anything quite like Davis’s 2014 performance in a Royals uniform.

As you would imagine for an eighth-inning guy, Davis had the second-highest leverage index on the team at 1.59. (Any thing above 1.0 is considered “high” pressure.) At this time last year, we were debating the merits of sticking Davis back in the rotation for another shot, or moving him to the bullpen. There will be no such debate this spring. The question this time around is: Can he repeat his performance?

I don’t see why not. His pitches are nasty, his ground ball rate is lofty and the Royals will place a fine infield defense behind him once again. His 87 percent strand rate looks like it’s due to regress, but given the small sample size of the relief pitching game, it wouldn’t be crazy if the correction was minor. He struck out 39 percent of all batters faced. His command was impeccable. There was no smoke and mirror component to Davis’s 2014 season. No fluke or outlier that will be difficult to duplicate.

Wade Davis’s 2014 was real, and it was spectacular.

Davis is signed for $7 million for 2015 and the team holds another option for $8 million in 2016 and $10 million for 2017. That’s a fair amount of coin for a reliever, but considering Greg Holland is going to earn $8.25 million in his second year of being eligible for arbitration, Davis’s contract isn’t extreme in the least. What could be extreme is the Royals committing over $15 million to two relievers. Granted, the pair are among the best (if not THE BEST) in the game at what they do. The Royals actually have both on what the industry would view as team-friendly deals.

As much as you’ll hate to hear this, I think the Royals need to explore a trade. Either Davis or Holland. The return the Royals get for either of the relievers would justify making this move. Especially as we move through spring training and teams are assessing their needs as Opening Day approaches. There will be trade partners and some will reek of desperation. The Royals bullpen is an embarrassment of riches that should be leveraged for the greater good. Trade Holland and Davis can slide into the closer role. Trade Davis and Kelvin Herrera can move up an inning. There are so many options concerning this bullpen. I get the appeal of standing pat. It’s easy and we saw how excellent it was last season. Another October run would totally justify keeping the pen together. But can the Royals recapture the magic from last fall? That’s a post for another day. For now, the bullpen is a nice problem for Dayton Moore to have. He just needs to make the right decision on how to deal with it in the way that gives the team the maximum benefit.

You figured the Royals would find a way to extend at least one of their arbitration eligible players. On Thursday, the team announced they signed Kelvin Herrera to a two-year, $4.15 million deal.

I profiled Herrera a few weeks ago. You can read it here.

Herrera qualified for arbitration as a super-two, so with the two year deal he just inked, he still has two trips through the process before he becomes a free agent.

The numbers haven’t exactly been broken down as of this writing, so let’s make some assumptions. Herrera asked for $1.9 million and the Royals came back with $1.15. The midpoint is $1.525 million. A good starting point. Let’s round down just for fun (and since most of these deals sacrifice some cash in the short-term for longer-term stability) and say he will make a cool $1.5 million for this upcoming season. That leaves him in the neighborhood of $2.65 million for 2016.

The arbitration process loves what we would call the “traditional” stats. For relievers that means appearances, ERA and saves. Things like strikeout rate and leverage are probably included, but certainly don’t carry the same weight. Should Herrera remain in the seventh (or even if he moved to the eighth inning role) he would lack the saves needed to impress the process. I would bet a second year reliever with his track record would be looking at an arbitration number around $3 million, give or take a few hundred thousand dollars. So for the Royals, this move strikes me as simply getting some payroll certainty on the books going forward. It’s an increasingly tricky landscape with a large number of players still eligible for arbitration, plus six options that must be settled.

On the surface, this strikes me as a good deal for both sides. Herrera finished with 1.4 fWAR last year, which Fangraphs calculated was worth $7.5 million in real dollars. For the amount the Royals are paying him over the next two years, he needs to earn less than 1 fWAR to provide a return on that investment. On the other side, Herrera has a couple of years where he doesn’t need to worry about his contract. Yet if something happened (say where Greg Holland was traded and he shifted to the closer role) it gives Herrera the opportunity to get paid a little more for the 2017 season.

With Herrera in the fold, just Holland and Eric Hosmer remain for the Royals arbitration eligible players. Expect some news on those two soon.

Greg Holland is ridiculous.

Those four words could be his complete player profile. Greg Holland is ridiculous.

This may be the most difficult player profile I will post. How many different ways can you say someone is dominant? Because Greg Holland is ridiculous.

Let’s just start with some raw, basic numbers.

Year Age Tm Lg ERA G GF SV IP BF ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2011 25 KCR AL 1.80 46 15 4 60.0 233 228 2.21 0.933 5.6 0.5 2.9 11.1 3.89
2012 26 KCR AL 2.96 67 36 16 67.0 289 142 2.29 1.373 7.8 0.3 4.6 12.2 2.68
2013 ★ 27 KCR AL 1.21 68 61 47 67.0 255 342 1.36 0.866 5.4 0.4 2.4 13.8 5.72
2014 ★ 28 KCR AL 1.44 65 60 46 62.1 240 277 1.83 0.914 5.3 0.4 2.9 13.0 4.50
5 Yrs 2.19 261 182 113 275.0 1104 188 2.06 1.069 6.4 0.5 3.2 12.5 3.85
162 Game Avg. 2.19 68 47 29 72 288 188 2.06 1.069 6.4 0.5 3.2 12.5 3.85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2015.

 

How can you comment on that? This is just four years of brilliance.

And to me, that’s the key when discussing Holland: His consistency. It seems that baseball is finally wising up about closers and their unpredictability. Something like 20 closers who finished the season in that role weren’t considered closers at the beginning of the season. Mortal closers aren’t so reliable. Greg Holland is not a mortal closer. When Holland began his career with the Royals, Joakim Soria was their ninth inning guy. In ’12 it was Jonathan Broxton. It didn’t happen and as much as I don’t like to deal in hypotheticals or what-ifs, take just a moment and imagine what we would be looking at had he been the full-time closer since ’11.

That consistency is something else.

Batters have yet to solve the mystery.

Year Age Tm G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
2010 24 KCR 15 87 78 23 5 0 3 8 23 .295 .360 .474 .835 .385
2011 25 KCR 46 233 211 37 8 2 3 19 74 .175 .246 .275 .521 .252
2012 26 KCR 67 289 248 58 12 3 2 34 91 .234 .323 .331 .653 .354
2013 27 KCR 68 255 235 40 6 2 3 18 103 .170 .228 .251 .479 .285
2014 28 KCR 65 240 218 37 5 0 3 20 90 .170 .238 .234 .472 .270
5 Yrs 261 1104 990 195 36 7 14 99 381 .197 .269 .290 .559 .301
162 Game Avg. 68 288 258 51 9 2 4 26 99 .197 .269 .290 .559 .301
MLB Averages .254 .319 .398 .717 .297
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2015.

 

That slider… It’s pitching porn. There’s just no other way to describe it. It’s so dirty. So nasty. And definitely NSFW.

When Holland jumps ahead in the count, batters are going to get that slider. He throws it over 60 percent of the time when he’s ahead. And when Holland throws that slider, opposing batters have no chance. They hit .122 with a .194 slugging percentage against him last year when they managed to put his slider into play. Making contact was a feat in and of itself. Batters missed over 26 percent of the time they swung the bat.

Greg Holland is ridiculous.

MLB Trade Rumors estimated Holland could cash in for $9.3 million. It was a bit of a surprise when he filed for less than that at $9 million, which seems to be a relatively kind ask. The Royals have offered $6.65 million, which feels far too low given his track record. You would hope that the two could find some sort of compromise in the neighborhood of $8 million. That’s above the midpoint, but Greg Holland is ridiculous. Pay the man.

Holland presents a quandary for me. The sabermetric side believes closers can be found and the Royals have a deep bullpen, loaded with talent. If anyone could net a decent return in a trade, it would be Saveman. If anyone could be replaced, it would be Saveman. But after writing this and looking at those crazy numbers he’s posted over the last four seasons, I’m not so sure. The fan in me wants the Royals to not only hold on to him, but I want him to get an extension. Buy out his remaining arbitration years and then grab a pair of his free agency seasons as well. The funny thing is, the financial pendulum seems to be swinging the other way on closers. Three years ago, the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract. This winter, David Robertson signed a four-year, $46 million deal with the White Sox. The inflation that runs throughout baseball has bypassed the closer market.

Of course the danger is you live to regret the long-term deal. Like the Phillies do with Papelbon. If Holland gets hurt, loses velocity off his fastball, or loses the bite on his slider, his value plummets. Plus, the Royals control Holland for two more seasons – through his age 30 year. He’s not racking up starter mileage on that arm, but you wonder about durability. The Royals, being a small-market team, can barely afford to pay a dominant closer more than $10 million. If they end up on the hook for big money and Holland loses effectiveness… I can’t even bear to think about what that would do to this franchise.

Remember though, teams are getting smarter about closers. Sure, there’s still some big cash being thrown around in free agency, but that probably won’t translate to the trade market. The return on a potential Holland trade won’t be as much as the Royals would hope. Besides, I tend to think the bullpen and closer market gets hottest closer to the trade deadline. Teams think they have internal options in the winter, or look to free agency. When injuries or ineffectiveness happens and a team is on the cusp of contention, that’s when desperation sets in and that’s when a team may pull the trigger for a trade on a closer.

Probably all wishful thinking. The right move is to probably hold on to Holland for the next two seasons, give him a qualifying offer, let him walk and collect a draft pick.

The Player Profile series began a couple of weeks ago with the idea that we should look at the Royals players eligible for arbitration. Holland is the ninth profile. Hopefully you’ve found this site or rediscovered it through some of these posts the last couple of weeks. If you’ve just now stumbled here, welcome. Here are the posts so far.

Tim Collins
Louis Coleman
Danny Duffy
Jarrod Dyson
Mike Moustakas
Lorenzo Cain
Kelvin Herrera
Eric Hosmer

Remember, Greg Holland is ridiculous.

In 2014, Kelvin Herrera finished with a 1.41 ERA, a 7.6 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9 and held opposition batters to a slash line of .214/.295/.266. He faced 285 batters and surrendered just 13 extra base hits. All of them doubles.

I don’t need to tell you he was the primary “H” in the H-D-H bullpen that powered the Royals to the Wild Card and beyond. Herrera was just as good in the postseason, throwing an additional 15 innings (!) with 16 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA. He had a bit of a blip relieving Yordano Ventura against the A’s, allowing an inherited runner to score and then coughing up three consecutive singles to surrender another run. He settled down the next inning and the rest is October lore. He was magnificent in two of the three Royals wins in the ALDS and in all four games of the ALCS, allowing just four base runners. Herrera stumbled a bit and battled his control in the World Series, but by this point he had thrown over 78 innings, most of them in high-leverage situations.

Herrera is an extreme ground ball pitcher. His four-seam fastball averages 98 mph and generates a ground ball 53 percent of the time. Pure filth. He compliments that with a two-seamer that clocks around 97 mph and results in a ground ball over 61 percent of the time when it’s put in play. That’s when hitters actually make contact. He generates a miss in 20 percent of the swings off his two-seamer, 28 percent of the time against his straight fastball. Seriously unfair.

How about this tasty nugget? Herrera finished 67 plate appearances in 2014 with his two-seam fastball. Exactly one of those were put in play for extra bases. A double. One lousy double. That’s all that opposing hitters could generate off that sinker. For the record, they hit .185 against the two-seamer and the lone double pushed their slugging percentage to .200.

Then what about his change-up?

Herrera’s change has an average velocity of around 87 mph, or 10 mph slower than his fastball. With similar arm action and release point, and a slight arm-side fade, this is the offering that keeps hitters off balance. Herrera generates a miss on over 37 percent of his swings against the change. He will throw his change 24 percent of the time against lefties and it’s his “go-to” pitch against them when he’s ahead in the count.

Last summer was the first time Herrera has thrown more two-seamers than change-ups. I think that can partially explain his decline in strikeout rate. The two-seamer was a challenge pitch: Here’s something you can hit, but go right ahead, because you’re going to keep this on the ground and I’m going to get an out (or two.)

From Brooks Baseball, here is Herrera’s pitch selection through his career.

HerreraSelection

That’s quite a change between his sinker and his change and it tells me he must have confidence in his two-seamer to get results. I realize strikeouts are fascist and ground balls are more democratic, but whatever works.

Herrera gives Yost some flexibility in the bullpen. While Wade Davis and Greg Holland were strict eight and ninth inning pitchers, respectively, Herrera had the ability to throw more than a single inning. While Davis was tasked with getting three outs just four times last summer, and Holland never did, Herrera got more than three outs in an outing 12 times.  That was the most on the team.

Yost also relied on Herrera more than any reliever to get his team out of trouble. Herrera inherited 43 runners in 2014, by far the most on the team. (Second was Aaron Crow, who inherited 28 runners.) Herrera allowed just nine of those runners to score. That’s a rate of 21 percent, well below league average of 28 percent.

Herrera was outstanding last year. He’s been outstanding his entire Royals career. Such is the life of a seventh inning set-up man that he flies relatively under the radar.

If there’s one thing about Herrera’s season that raised a red flag was his drop in strikeout rate. In 2014, he whiffed 7.6 batters per nine, way down from his 2013 strikeout rate of 11.4 SO/9. I looked for a possible cause in the decline, but there isn’t anything that points to his falling strikeout rate as continuing. His swing and miss rate fell by a couple of percentage points and his contact rate was around 75 percent. Eh. Opposition batters swung more frequently in the past, and with the decline in missing bats, I suppose that’s as good a reason as any. Thankfully his 99 mph four-seamer and 98 mph sinker have been rock steady. Last year, his change-up velocity jumped to 90 mph, up three mph from 2013. The decline in strikeouts is something to watch going forward, but I expect it will increase in 2015. PECOTA is projecting a whiff rate of 8.9 SO/9. I’ll buy that.

Herrera is eligible for arbitration for the first time. While his performance was dominant, the system favors closers (because saves) over guys who just get the job done. While there’s no doubt in my mind Herrera can close, he’s not going to make Greg Holland money. Although his presence on the roster could render Holland (or Davis) expendable, should the Royals decide to jettison some payroll or add a bat in exchange for a reliever. Herrera asked for $1.9 million and the Royals offered $1.15 million. With the midpoint at $1.525, I expect the Royals and H1 (get it?) to settle at that number, give or take $25,000.

Yesterday, I opened with Tim Collins. Today, I turn the spotlight on Louis Coleman.

Coleman is the other bullpen arm eligible for arbitration the Royals settled with just prior to the deadline for parties to exchange figures. MLB Trade Rumors figured him to earn $700,000 in 2015. His actual salary will be $725,000.

Coleman made his major league debut in 2011, has made 148 appearances for the Royals, throwing a total of 174 innings, yet has never survived a full year in the majors. Still, he’s been a semi-valuable short man in the bullpen for the Royals.

The best way to show you would be to just throw some raw numbers out there.

ColemanStats

I know, I know… ERA isn’t the best measure. But for a reliever, I don’t mind so much. The small sample size and all of that. What I do like is the left on base percentage that’s represented in the final column. By that number alone, we can see some of the reasons of Coleman’s success in the past. He’s generally been difficult to hit. Except last year, he lost some of that mojo. Like his bullpen mate I profiled yesterday, Coleman missed fewer bats in all situations in 2014 and the averages went up.

Now I’m going to commit the cardinal sin of saber metrics and look at batting average against. Again, this isn’t meant to break any new ground, simply an attempt to understand what happened to Coleman last year.

ColemanGraph

As I alluded to earlier, his whiff rate was down to 10 percent last summer, compared to 17 percent the year before. His contact rate increased from 65 percent in 2013 to 77 percent in 2014. That’s huge. And that’s why his batting average allowed increased. Further, the more hits he allowed means he’s not going to strand those baserunners. What we basically saw was a nasty correction for Coleman. He isn’t as good as his 2013. Jeez, he’s no Wade Davis. But is he as mediocre as his 2014?

Coleman is strictly a fastball/slider pitcher, though he will feature a two-seamer with some solid sink. The right-hander throws with a low arm slot, making his pitches extremely difficult to track for right-handed batters. Against lefties, he’s less effective. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Last year, same-side batters tuned up Coleman with a .315/.400/.571 slash line. Lefties hit him for a line of .233/.327/.302. That goes completely against his career M.O. where he’s tougher on right-handed batters.

What was different? He relied on his sinker a little more, but not really enough to make a difference. His slider was his “go-to” pitch when he was ahead in the count to both lefties and right-handed batters, just the same as he used the pitch in the past. But hitters posted a .422 batting average and a whopping .867 slugging percentage against his four-seamer in 2014. And right-handed batters crushed him to the tune of a .469 batting average and 1.067 slugging percentage on fastballs. Yikes.

Sometimes, regression happens in a manner that will make your head spin like a top. And I’ll be damned if I can’t find an underlying reason why Coleman plummeted to Earth and smashed right through to the inner core.

If I were to speculate (we’re all friends, right? I can speculate) I would say it had something to do with his arm slot. As a pitcher with a crossfire delivery, he’s been inconsistent with his release point throughout his career. From Texas Leaguers, here is how his arm slot looked in his exceptional 2013 season:

ColemanRelease13

Compare that to last summer:

ColemanRelease14

The same cluster exists, but the 2014 release point actually goes off the chart. The difference in mechanics when delivering his four-seamer meant his average pitch drifted further to the outside to the right-handed batter. That gave same-side hitters just a fraction more time to get the barrel out ahead to get the sweetspot of the bat on the ball. If Coleman had been able to keep the ball inside on the hands of right-handed hitters, he wouldn’t have experienced such misery.

Here’s the frustrating thing: The data from Texas Leaguers backs my hypothesis. It looks like Coleman’s fastball ran away from right-handed hitters more in 2014 than it has before. However, the data at Brooks Baseball has the difference as negligible. Damn.

Coleman is a sidearming enigma. He wasn’t good last year and there’s nothing obvious that jumps out as the underlying cause of his struggles. So if you don’t know what’s broken, how do you fix it?

If Coleman has lost his effectiveness against right-handed bats for good, he’s of no use to the Royals. The gamble is to see if he can rediscover his past success. Anyway, with the stacked bullpen, it’s not like he’s going to be counted on in high-leverage situations. Although he could team up with Collins to form some sort of short-man combo (unintended pun using Collins there and Coleman stands 6’4″) in games where the Royals have to go to their bullpen after five innings or Ned Yost needs to keep a deficit manageable in the later innings. Basically, we have a question as to which Coleman will appear this season. The luxury of the current bullpen is, it’s a low-risk, moderate-reward proposition.

As mentioned at the top of this post, Coleman will make $725,000 next summer. Major league minimum will be above $510,000. We’ve seen Coleman be effective before. While it would be a stretch to expect something along his 2013 numbers, it’s worth the extra quarter of a million to see if he can up the strikeout rate, tinker with his arm slot, rediscover the effectiveness of his four-seamer and recover to something along his 2012 performance.

On Friday afternoon, the Royals announced they reached agreements with relievers Louis Coleman and Tim Collins. Coleman, who qualifies as a Super Two, will earn $725,000 in 2015, while Collins will cash checks totaling a sum of $1,475,000. Going by the estimates from MLB Trade Rumors, these amounts are pretty much spot-on. They had Coleman at $700,000 and Collins at $1.5 million. These contracts seem relatively fair.

Collins, of course, will have to step up his game in 2015. He made two sub-par appearances in April of last year before landing on the DL with a flexor strain in his elbow. One of those appearances was in Detroit the second game of the year when Ned Yost inserted him into a tie game in the bottom of the 10th where he walked a pair of batters before giving up a two-out, game-winning single to Ian Kinsler.

After being sidelined for a month, Collins pitched better upon his return. Over his next 16 outings, he posted a 2.20 ERA over 16.1 innings with 10 strikeouts. Nevertheless, he was the odd man out in June when fellow lefty Bruce Chen came of his stint on the disabled list. At the time, the Royals said they wanted Collins to go to Omaha to work on his secondary pitches. The team said he was throwing too many fastballs and ignoring his change and his curve. The funny thing was, Collins was throwing fewer fastballs in the time leading to his demotion that at any time in his tenure with the Royals. While there was some validity to the claim, it wasn’t like his pitch selection was completely out of whack. He just wasn’t all that effective compared to previous seasons.

CollinsPitchType

Batters have has a modicum of success against Collins’s fastball in previous seasons, hitting around .300 against his heater, which averages around 93 mph. In 2014, he lost about a mph off the pitch and opposing batters posted a batting average of .333 with a .524 slugging percentage. His change and curve are his definite bread and butter pitches. Last summer he limited hitters to a .167 average off his change and a microscopic .077 batting average off his curve. Neither pitch yielded an extra base hit.

Why was he going to his fastball so much in the first part of the season? Good question, especially given how successful his secondary pitches were.

Perhaps part of it stems from a lack of confidence. Perhaps part of it stems from an uncertainty in how to deal with an injury for the first time in his career. Whatever the reason, hitters were able to set Collins up like never before. Command has always been an issue with the lefty. He has a career walk rate of 5.2 BB/9. In 2014, hitters could take a pitch or two, get ahead in the count and then look dead-red fastball. He threw fastballs 91 percent of the time after falling behind in the count to left-handed batters. To right-handers, it was a whopping 84 percent.

This dovetails to another concern about Collins and that is his declining strikeout rate. Entering the 2014 season, his lowest whiff rate as a Royal was around 8 SO/9. In 2014, his strikeout rate tumbled to 6.4 SO/9. Naturally, throwing so many fastballs meant his swing and miss rate would decline, and it did. But his rates tumbled across the board, on all pitches. He was down about 4 percent across the board. Here’s a look at how Collins has missed bats in his major league career.

CollinsWhiff

As you can see from the table, Collins posted career low marks in swing and miss percentage for every pitch type in 2014. That’s not a positive trend for a reliever entering his age 25 season.

Collins was recalled after the Triple-A playoffs and made four appearances for the Royals down the stretch. Three of them were in low-leverage situations. He made the postseason rosters and made a memorable appearance in Game One of the ALDS against the Angels, where, after hitting his first batter, he got the first two outs of the ninth inning in a 2-2 game. With Yost leaning on his Big Three in the bullpen, he didn’t make another appearance until the World Series. Overall, he saw action in three games of the Fall Classic, all of them in mop-up roles.

With Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera in place, Collins profiles as a useful left-handed arm in the Royals bullpen. The temptation for Yost has been to use Collins as a LOOGY, but Collins doesn’t have extreme splits that make him suited for that role. Last year, lefties hit .240/.346/.364 while right-handers posted a line of .231/.361/.353. For his career, same-side batters hit .219/.341/.362 while righties hit .224/.328/.347. See? There’s nothing in his performance to suggest Collins is a lefty-specialist. He can actually be more valuable because when he’s mixing his pitches and missing the bats, he’s equally effective against all batters.

Collins had a rough season, but provided positive value for the Royals in both 2012 and 2013. Steamer projects Collins at a 3.49 ERA to go along with a 8.7 SO/9 and 3.7 BB/9. If he’s going to match those projections, he will need to rediscover some of his swing-and-miss mojo and he will have to get away from throwing so many fastballs when he falls behind in the count. If he can do that, his $1.475 million salary will give the Royals another useful arm in the bullpen. Maybe Yost will hit bullpen nirvana and declare Collins his sixth inning guy.

Reports are Sal Perez is on his way to Kansas City.

About time.

It’s strange to think this way, but it just feels like the Royals are already Sal’s team. He’s the guy. The one they can’t afford to have out of the lineup.

I mean, we’re talking about a guy with 158 career major league plate appearances. How the hell can he be the big kahuna on a major league team with so little experience?

All I know is what I’ve read and heard discussed from various players and team officials. The guy oozes professionalism and commands respect.

As a writer with a SABR bent, I’m supposed to mock the leadership angle. (Francoeur? Too easy.) But there is no denying that something really cool started last summer when the young guys were brought up to the majors. And it kind of feels like it’s been placed on hold while Perez has been rehabbing. It’s been interesting to me to see the amount of respect he holds within the realm of the clubhouse. Leadership won’t get you wins, but there’s something about it that makes it crazy fun to watch.

Is Sal the Savior? I don’t think so. Defensively, he’s going to be awesome. As long as his knee holds. And I seriously doubt the Royals would be putting him behind the plate if he wasn’t 100 percent ready.

I know many of you are excited by his offensive performance from last season, but there was nothing in his minor league history to indicate he was capable of that. He finished with a line of .331/.361/.473, which was just insane. Yes, he was hitting .340/.365/.380 in Omaha, but I really don’t think we can insert him into the lineup and expect those kind of numbers.

He will be a huge upgrade over the Pena/Quintero tandem, though. And that’s good enough for me.

If Sal is behind home plate tonight, it will feel like Opening Day, Part 2. Welcome home, Sal.

The Bases Are Drunk. A lot.

Jonathan Sanchez has faced 15 batters with the bases loaded – defined as “grand slam opportunities” by Baseball Reference. That’s the second most in the American League this year. The Rangers Yu Darvish has the most in the AL with 16. Interesting. Especially given the fact that Sanchez has thrown 36 innings. Darvish has twirled 89 innings.

Fortunately, in each grand slam opportunity, Sanchez has kept the ball in the yard. Still, 15 opportunities in 36 innings… And you thought Jonathan Broxton pitched on a tightrope.

Sanchez has contributed the lion’s share of the Royals league leading total of pitching with 74 grand slam opportunities. Fortunately, they’ve surrendered just a single slam.

The Twins – with the worst pitching in the league – have faced just 42 grand slam opportunities.

I have no idea what this means…

High Leverage Pen

Not only is the Royals bullpen really good, they’ve been doing it under tremendous pressure. According to Baseball Reference, the bullpen’s average Leverage Index (aLI) is 1.094, which is tops in the league. In fact, only three bullpens have an aLI greater than 1, which is “average” pressure.

Royals – 1.094
Tigers – 1.058
Orioles – 1.054

The Orioles have the best bullpen in the league, according to ERA at 2.38. I’m thinking the high leverage combined with the quality of performance is a huge reason the O’s are leading the uber competitive AL East. The Tigers bullpen ERA is 3.89, which is the second worst rate in the league, better than only the Indians. So I’m thinking the high leverage combined with the poor performance (relative to the league) is a reason the Tigers are scuffling.

The Royals may blow that hypothesis out of the water. Their bullpen ERA of 2.93 is seventh best in the AL, yet they’re nipping at the heels of the Tigers.

It boils down to the offense. The Royals are plating just 3.88 runs per game, while the tigers are scoring 4.4 per contest. That difference of 0.5 runs per game may be enough to offset the Royals bullpen advantage.

I still think the Tigers are the favorites in the Central. But they’ll need their pen to improve. Meanwhile, in a weak division, it’s the pen keeping the Royals in the hunt. If they can get their offense to pick up, they’ll be able to prevent the Tigers from gaining separation.

It’s a simplistic analysis, but sometimes the simple things help you gain the most clarity.

I may be coming around on this whole contention thing.

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