Kansas City Royals' Bullpen Is the Real Cause of Disasterous 2009

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Kansas City Royals' Bullpen Is the Real Cause of Disasterous 2009
(Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)

A few days ago, we examined the effect or non-effect of injuries with relation to a rather pitiful Royals offensive effort this season.  In doing so, it appeared that the Royals might have come up thirty or so runs short of what their reasonable expectations should have been entering the 2009 campaign.

That is a problem, but not enough of one to send a team that had dreams of at least playing .500 ball into the second worst team in all of baseball, even when you factor in that the underproducing lineup is also a poor defensive squad as well.

Given the recent injuries to Gil Meche and Brian Bannister and the descent into ineffectiveness by Luke Hochevar, one might find blame in the starting rotation.  The Royals, however, have been in a death spiral since mid-May: long before the rotation came apart on them.

On July 6, Meche's earned run average stood at 4.14 and that includes a four game stretch that saw him give up 17 runs in 20 innings.  Brian Bannister had an earned run average below four all the way up to his start on Aug. 12.   Luke Hochevar had gone six or more innings in nine out of 10 starts spanning all of June and July.  

Sure, Kyle Davies, after three good starts to begin the season, had gotten so bad that he was sent down at the end of June, but that still left the Royals with four pretty quality starters for much of the first half of 2009.   Keep in mind, one of those four is simply the best pitcher in the game right now (a guy named Greinke, I believe).

While the rotation's collapse in August made a bad season really bad, we can hardly blame the starters for sending the team into a fight to reach .400 baseball.

That pretty much leaves us just one place to look, doesn't it?  My guess is that most of you reading this already knew the Royals bullpen was bad, but let's just reinforce that feeling with some numbers:

  • The 5.06 earned run average by the Royals' pen (and that includes Joakim Soria's stats) is 12th in the American League.
  • Having converted just 29 of 50 save opportunities, the bullpen's save percentage of 58 percent is the worst in the league and nine points below the league average.
  • Royals' relievers have found themselves in 99 hold situations and been credited with just 45—worst total in the league.
  • They have allowed 46 percent of inherited runners to score.   The next worst percentage in the league is 38 percent and the league average is 34 percent.
  • The Royals bullpen has the fewest wins in the league (14) and an overall record of 14-24.

Those of us in the statistical community certainly bristle at won-loss records as a reflection of pitching performance.   However, check out the bullpen records of the seven teams in the AL in contention for the playoffs:

NYY:  38-15, converting 77% of saves

LAA:   26-20, converting 72% of saves

DET:   25-20, converting 62% of saves

TEX:   18-18, converting 78% of saves

BOS:   26-15, converting 71% of saves

MIN:   20-20, converting 74% of saves

CWS:  22-21, converting 66% of saves

By now, you can probably see where this column is headed and I must admit that during the offseason the idea of trading a relief pitcher for an everyday player was an idea I generally agree with.   Although, having watched 2009 unfold, my stance is changing by the day.

Dayton Moore shipped off Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs, whose inability to do produce at the plate as a designated hitter is THE biggest downfall of the Royals' offense, and Ramon Ramirez for Coco Crisp, who predictably went down with injuries in mid-May. 

How different would the Royals' season be if those two trades had not happened?   Would a Royals team with Mitch Maier in center all year and Kila Kaaihue at designated hitter be any worse offensively?  

If Nunez and Ramirez had been kept in the fold, would the Royals felt compelled to throw too much money and too many years at a reliever in Kyle Farnsworth who cannot perform in pressure situations?  Plus, would the early season injury to closer Joakim Soria have sent the pen into complete disarray if both Nunez and Ramirez were there to temporarily fill the void?  

Had Farnsworth not been signed, would the Dayton Moore have had enough money to sign Orlando Hudson to a one-year deal?  

With Hudson in the fold, the Royals would have had added depth in the person of Alberto Callaspo to fill the void when Alex Gordon, Crisp and Jose Guillen all went down for extended periods of time with injuries.  Heck, if Kaaihue struggled on a Jacobs-esque level, the Royals could have used the iron gloved Callaspo at designated hitter.

The simple fact is that, with all that went wrong in 2009 that made the Royals a below average team, it was the bullpen that made them just plain awful.    The moves made by Dayton Moore (and let's not even get into the J.P. Howell for Joey Gathright trade of a few years back) are certainly defensible, but they all backfired horribly.

Sadly, it seems as though the Royals' front office has learned more about making excuses in 2009 then they have learned from their mistakes.

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