By this point in the baseball postseason, the themes are plentiful: the superiority of Kansas City’s bullpen, the craziness of Hunter Pence, the freshness of the Kansas City Royals, the resilience of the San Francisco Giants.
Assertion: The Royals are showing that three closer-level relievers is the future of baseball.
Why it’s wrong: Go find Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, and sure it is. Good luck with that.
The trio of fire-breathing relievers at the back end Kansas City’s bullpen powered their surge to the World Series and sparked
their Game 2 victory. In the postseason, Herrera, Davis and Holland have allowed two earned runs and 15 hits in 29 1/3 innings with 36 strikeouts. If the Royals have a lead during the middle innings, start planning for tomorrow.
“After the sixth inning,” Manager Ned Yost said, “my thinking is done.”
It is novel and dominant, but the pattern is not easy – or maybe even possible – to copy. In Game 2, Herrera fired fastballs
that not only hummed at 101 miles per hour, but also veered into a right-handed batter’s hands. Giants slugger Michael Morse,
who was left holding only the knob of his bat after one swing at one of Herrera’s heat, pondered whether anyone else in baseball
throws like Herrera.
“No,” Morse said, searching. “Right? Is there? The closest guys are the guys in their bullpen.”
And Herrera typically pitches the seventh inning. The Royals essentially have three closers. So, given their success, why
wouldn’t every team model themselves after the Royals? Relievers come cheaper than starters, making them a more efficient
asset anyway, right?
First, relievers such as these do not fall out of the sky. Second, relievers such as these tend not to stay relievers such
as these for long. Relief pitching is the most volatile commodity in the sport, owing to small sample size and injury that
occurs with such violent motions producing high velocity.
Yost deserves much credit for keeping all three fresh all summer and into the playoffs. Even with prudence, typically regression
could make it hard for even the Royals to repeat what the Royals have done. Look at 2013: Herrera, the most dominant force
in the playoffs at present, went 5-7 with a 3.86 ERA while striking out more batters and walking fewer than this year.
The making and acquisition of relievers shows how unpredictable it is. Herrera signed for $15,000 out of the Dominican Republic
in 2006. Davis came to the Royals as a starter, and they made him a full-time reliever this spring only after Luke Hochevar’s
elbow surgery created an opening in the bullpen. Holland was drafted in the 10th round.
Do the Royals deserve credit for finding, developing and nurturing them? Without question. Did they plan for their bullpen
performance to unfold as it has? Not a chance. And good luck to any other team that tries to emulate them.