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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.

Yesterday afternoon, Jonathan Broxton notched his 18th save of the year (good for fourth in the American League) and with it secured a winning road trip for the Royals.   He did so in what has become typical Broxton fashion, allowing two baserunners before finally getting his team out of the inning.

So far in 2012, Broxton has had 21 save opportunities and blown (generally in spectacular fashion) three of them.  Obviously, in those three, Jonathan allowed baserunners.   In the 18 successful saves, Broxton has retired the side in order just five times.   Broxton has had some other perfect innings, but in non-save situations. 

In the remaining 13 saves, Broxton has allowed just one baserunner six times, two baserunners six more times and loaded the bases once.   Is that normal? 

In 2008, we saw Joakim Soria in this prime just dominate.  He went seven straight appearances without allowing any baserunners and had another stretch where he did not allow a baserunner in eight out of nine appearances.  Soria blew three saves that entire season.   In 2006, division rival Joe Nathan blew two saves all season and in 21 of his 36 successful save conversions, threw perfect innings.

Those are two very good closers in probably their two best years, however.  Where does Broxton stand right now?  Is he getting just plain lucky and due for a series of devastating team gutting blown saves?  Or is this how it is across baseball?   Royals’ arch-enemy Chris Perez leads the league in saves, let’s take a look at what he has done.

Perez has converted 22 out of 23 save opportunities.   He had a one out save, which we will sort out of the equation.  Of the 21 remaining saves, Perez was perfect in 9 of those.   He allowed one baserunner in 6, two baserunners in 5 and three baserunners in the other.   It is noteworthy that while Broxton has not allowed a run in any of his 18 successful saves, Chris Perez has three times allowed  a run to score, but had enough cushion to still get the save.   In comparing Perez vs. Broxton, we see a few more flashes of dominance out of Perez, but also some poorer outings as well:  not a tremendous difference, frankly.

The Orioles Jim Johnson is second in the league in saves and has allowed just 15 hits in 31 innings of work.   Johnson has converted 20 of 21 save opportunities and been perfect in 9 of those 19 saves.   He has allowed one baserunner eight times, two on three occassions and never has put three runners on base.   Johnson has, however, allowed a run and still gotten the save twice.  It is also noteworthy that in his last six save opportunites, Jim has blown one and been perfect the other five times.

 The only other closer in the AL with more saves than Broxton is Tampa’s Fernando Rodney.  Two of his twenty saves (the first two actually) were just one out saves and Rodney has blown one save opportunity as well.  Of the remaining 18 saves, Rodney has been perfect in 12 of them.   He allowed one baserunner in four (along with an unearned run), two baserunners just once and three baserunners once (along with a run).

I am going to skip down a couple of spots to the most established closer type on the leaderboard:  Joe Nathan.  The Rangers’ closer has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities and been perfect in 10 of those.   In the other five saves, Nathan has allowed one baserunner four times and two runners just once.  He has not allowed a run in a successful save situation.

Now, baserunners happen.  Allowing one batter to reach base in the ninth inning is hardly a sign of the apocalypse (at least I don’t think so, the Mayans are hard to figure out), so let’s forgive all those outings for the guys we are looking at and compare the number of multiple runners on in save situations:

  • Perez – 6 out of 21 (1 blown save)
  • Johnson – 3 out of 20 (1 blown save)
  • Rodney – 2 out of 18 (1 blown save)
  • Broxton – 7 out of 18 (3 blown saves)
  • Nathan – 1 out of 15 (1 blown save)

Quick and dirty research tells us that Broxton’s success, if not lucky, has come in a manner different than that of the other save leaders in the league.   That said, closers are all different (I mean, most of them are really, really different) maybe Broxton has always been this way.

Well, in 2009, Broxton had a career high 36 saves, striking out 114 in 76 innings.   He allowed more than one baserunner in just 7 of those 36 successful saves, but he also suffered six blown saves.   In 2010, he was 22 of 27 in save opportunities and allowed multiple baserunners in five of his 22 successful saves.  It is noteworthy that his 2010 performance resulted in Broxton losing his closer job in August.

In his prime, Broxton did not walk the high wire to quite the extent he has thus far for the Royals (although he was still prone to the blown save).  That does not mean that Jonathan will not be able to continue:  the ability to throw 98 mph can help offset runners on base.   However, the odds would seem to suggest that Broxton might be running out of wiggle room.

There is, however, one additional consideration.   Broxton is really just two and one-half months back from injury.   He has spent the better part of the last two years getting lit up.  Could this all be just part of ‘getting back’?  I think that is a very real possibility and the truth is, if Broxton ends up saving 36 games this year, blowing six and taking us on a ride in half of those 36 successes, that is still going to be a pretty decent year.

It’s not dominant and it’s not ideal, but not everyone can be Joakim Soria.   Heck, Joakim Soria wasn’t Joakim Soria the last couple of years.

xxx

Being a long reliever is an inglorious job.  You sit and sit and wait and wait and people make jokes about putting your face on the side of a milk carton.   When the call finally comes, it is usually when your team is in dire straits (or not straits at all) and, after sitting for a week, you are expected to pitch multiple innings. 

Everett Teaford was the original long man this year, sitting for seven days to start the season before being called upon to pitch four innings against Cleveland with his team down five runs.   He waited eight more days before throwing three more innings and then was called upon to make a spot start last Friday. 

Teaford did not have a good start on Friday:  lasting just four innings.   At that point, without a long man in his pen and due to the back and forth nature of that very entertaining contest, Ned Yost had to use five relievers to finish out the game.  The five combined for 85 pitches and the Royals’ deep pen was suddenly in real trouble.

Probably the rain out on Saturday, which did nothing to help Kansas City’s building momentum, was a very good thing for the bullpen.  That and the callup of Nathan Adcock to replace the ‘used up’ Everett Teaford on the roster.

I have to admit, when Adcock was summoned from Omaha to replace Teaford, I kind of thought it was an overreaction by the Royals.  They have exhibited a tendency to panic at the first sign of stress on their bullpen arms.   Yost, in particular, seems borderline paranoid at times about having a long man ready to go.   Hey, the baseball men got it right this time.

Enter the bad Bruce Chen on Sunday.  We see him from time to time – frankly, I remain continually surprised we don’t see him more often.  When Chen doesn’t have it, balls get ripped around the ballpark.  It happens to everyone not named Verlander and Halladay, and it happened to Chen on Sunday.   His defense didn’t help him much, but Bruce did not help himself much, either.

With two outs in the third and six runs already in, Nate Adcock got the call.   

The Royals were down 6-1 and, although they would make some runs at the Twins, this game was pretty much decided.  There is no glory to be had here and, with five plus innings left to go, Yost had to be thinking he was going to grind through the pen again.   With three games looming at Detroit, two of which will be started by Sanchez and Mendoza (combined will they reach double digits in innings pitched in the Motor City?), that is not a scenario where you have to burn up the likes of Collins, Coleman and Crow just to finish a blowout game.   You can insert your Mitch Maier comment/joke here, by the way.

Instead of that, Adcock got Alexi Casilla to pop out to end the third.   He worked around a one out walk in the fourth, wriggled out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth, faced the minimum in the sixth and was tagged for a run on two doubles in the seventh.  After getting two groundouts to start the eighth, Adcock walked back to back hitters before getting Josh Williingham to fly out to end the inning.

It was not the prettiest of outings, as Adcock allowed eight baserunners in five and one-third innings, but he held the Twins to just one run over that time.  Had his offensive mates managed to get more than four runs out of fourteen baserunners, Adcock might have gotten a little glory after all.  

As it stood, though, Kansas City never seemed to really be in this game.   That left Nate Adcock out on the mound with one mission:  save the rest of the staff for games that the Royals might have a real chance to win and that is exactly what he did.    The Royals enter Detroit tonight with a fully stocked and fresh bullpen, except for a long man.

There’s the rub.   Adcock, by doing his job and pitching five innings on Sunday, likely got his ticket punched back to the minors so that the Royals can recall someone who will be available to throw early this week.  Such is the life of the long man.   Everett Teaford and Nate Adcock know the drill.   They are the forgotten men:  seldom needed, but expected to excel when duty calls and, if they pitch well enough, likely to be sent to the minors in exchange for a fresher arm.

Like Teaford’s performance on April 13th, we probably won’t give Adcock’s five innings of cleanup work yesterday much thought as the season progresses.  However, when Ned Yost makes the slow walk to the mound tonight and on Tuesday night, you can thank Adcock for the fact that everyone is ready for duty.

xxx

 

On Saturday night, with the Royals protecting a 6-2 lead, we got our first look at Jonathan Broxton as a Royal.   He faced four batters, allowing two hits and a run and, quite frankly, was not all that impressive.  

Throwing ten pitches, Broxton induced zero swinging strikes and one foul ball.  Torii Hunter bunted a 96 mph fastball for a single, which was the hardest pitch Broxton threw on Saturday.   Here is the complete pitch sequence for the outing:

Against Kendry Morales

  • 94 mph fastball – called strike
  • 86 mph slider – double

Against Torii Hunter

  • 96 mph fastball – bunt single

Against Bobby Abreu

  • 74 mph curve – called strike
  • 95 mph fastball – ball
  • 92 mph fastball – ball
  • 88 mph slider – foul
  • 85 mph slider – sacrifice fly

Against Vernon Wells

  • 87 mph slider – ball
  • 95 mph fastball – ground ball into double play

Let’s not panic here, that isn’t horrible:  a double and a goofy bunt single when up by four runs, but it is hardly dominant.  Nothing happened on Saturday to make me think that Greg Holland won’t be the closer for the Royals by mid-May.

Then came Sunday.

Let’s run down the outing for Jonathan Broxton in the ninth inning of the series clinching game after Aaron Crow had allowed runners to reach first and second with no one out. 

Against Torii Hunter

  • 96 mph fastball – foul
  • 96 mph fastball – swinging strike
  • 97 mph fastball – swinging strike

Against Vernon Wells

  • 99 mph fastball – ball
  • 97 mph fastball – foul
  • 91 mph slider – swinging strike
  • 98 mph fastball – ball
  • 91 mph slider – foul
  • 97 mph fastball – swinging strike

Against Kendry Morales

  • 97 mph fastball – ball
  • 89 mph slider – swinging strike
  • 89 mph slider – foul
  • 97 mph fastball – foul
  • 90 mph slider – swinging stirke

Okay, so maybe Greg Holland won’t be the closer by mid-May.   What you notice right away is that the velocity is up across the board – which is a great sign for a pitcher coming back from injury and working his second day in a row.  

On Sunday, Broxton threw five sliders, the slowest of which was faster than any of the four sliders he threw on Saturday.   Those five sliders induced one two foul balls and three swinging strikes.  Can you say ‘out’ pitch?    On top of that, Broxton’s nine fastballs were all as fast or faster than his high water mark on Saturday.

Same stadium, same time of day, same gun and basically the same hitters and Broxton when from so-so to freaking dominant in the span of 24 hours.  Maybe the more appropriate analogy is that we saw the 2011 Jonathan Broxton on Saturday and the 2009 version (when he struck 114 in 76 innings) on Sunday.    Who said you can never go back?

Now, 10 pitches on Saturday and 14 more on Sunday are not enough of a sample size to really come to any conclusions (other than Jonathan is better when he throws harder – duh!), but it is enough to get this writer more than interested.  An effective, borderline dominant Broxton, gives the Royals tremendous flexibility going forward.   Especially early on when the team’s relievers have a curious tendency to be very good coming into a game and very bad once they try to pitch a second inning.

If Broxton continues to perform as he did yesterday, Ned Yost will have the confidence to go early and often to the pen (even more than he does now), knowing that he won’t need to save a Holland or Crow to back-up Broxton.    Given the number of young, talented arms in Omaha (I mean, seriously, name me a Royals’ bullpen in the last decade that Louis Coleman wouldn’t be the second or third best pitcher), should Dayton Moore find himself in contention in late June he could confidently move a bullpen arm or two to plug a hole somewhere else.   Should the Royals not be a serious contender by then, what would an effective Jonathan Broxton mean to someone like the Red Sox, for example?

Of course, what would an effective Jonathan Broxton mean to the 2013 Royals?  Let’s remember, Broxton will just be 29 years old next year.   How would it feel as a Royals’ fan to start 2013 with this same bullpen, but add Joakim Soria (I’m expecting the Royals to opt out of his contract, but resign him to a more favorable deal) at some point during that season?

Okay, okay, okay, I have gotten ahead of myself.  Broxton likely is unavailable for tonight’s game against Oakland and might well come out of the gate on Tuesday throwing 93 and all of this will just be pie in the sky.  Still, if Broxton starts stringing together velocity numbers like those posted on Sunday, his somewhat controversial $4 million deal will look like another shrewd Dayton Moore reclamation project.

Anybody having fun, yet?

xxx

 

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