What makes baseball great is the fact that it is an unpredictable game, that is really why we watch the games isn’t it? We don’t know what is going to happen, so we have to tune in or go to the ballpark to find out. Prior to the season, had you asked anyone what the strength of the Royals would be and they would likely tell you “starting pitching”. I know that is what I would have told you, it seemed obvious. Even now I feel like starting pitching is a strength on this team, but the numbers don’t really prove that out. On the other hand, if you asked someone what the weakness of the Royals was about one week into the season they no doubt would have said “relief pitching”, and they would have been right. However a funny thing has happened since then: the bullpen has been pretty good and the rotation hasn’t. As per usual, I will use a graph to tell the story. Below is a graph of the relief ERA in red and the starting rotation ERA in blue. Across the bottom is the game of the season and up the left side is ERA. The big black X’s represent a blown save.
As we all know, it was very ugly early in the season. The bullpen couldn’t hold a lead and to make it worse the starting rotation was pitching pretty darn well. However around game 36 or so, the relief ERA went lower than the starting rotation ERA and has held on pretty much since then only briefly going above the starting rotation ERA. Neither the rotation nor the relief ERA is below league average however the bullpen as of late has been certainly getting the job done.
The bullpen is still tied for second in the majors with 11 blown saves, but few of those have come lately and the one that is most recent came in a game where the Royals still won the game. The relief pitchers have also lowered their collective ERA to 4.38 which is better than eleven other major league bullpens.
Over the last 30 games, the Royals have a 16-14 record which for this team is a very respectable stretch. Over 162 games that ends up being 86 wins, which is something I think we would all be happy with. Over those last 30 games the starting rotation has a 5.09 ERA and the bullpen has a 3.35 ERA. I think it is safe to say that in the run prevention department, the bullpen should get the lions share of the credit for this recent stretch of quality play. Some of the ERA discrepancy can be attributed to some absolute blowups by the starting rotation, but those starts count too and it is hard for your team to comeback and win those kinds of games.
I still think that this team is a 75 win team, with the capability of winning as much as 85 games. However to get to 75 wins two of the three components of the team (rotation, offense, bullpen) have to be playing well like they are now (bullpen and offense). In order to get to 85 wins, all three components need to be clicking at the same time so that the Royals can rattle off a big winning streak.
Early in the season, fans and media alike can blow a particular bad stretch out of proportion and forget that there is lots of time left in the season for the team to get better or address the problem areas. The Royals have done an excellent job of addressing the bullpen issues from earlier in the season and it has helped them tremendously. What remains to be seen, is if the offense can continue to hit well and the starting rotation can come around. If all of that can happen, who knows what is possible?