As the ugly outings piled up and his ERA spiked toward the stratosphere, Royals reliever Peter Moylan headed for a fact-finding mission in the club’s video room on Thursday afternoon. In 20 appearances this season, Moylan, a 38-year-old side-armer, had posted a 9.20 ERA, the kind of number that could cause a pitcher to question his job security. Yet the overall results did not seem to match up with his overall performance, nor did it resemble what he saw while inspecting video clips from his season.
It’s been an odd season, Moylan conceded, the kind where one can be optimistic about a monstrous ERA. In 16 of his first 20 games, he had logged a scoreless appearance. In three of the other four, he had surrendered at least four earned runs. The season has profiled as feast or famine. But Royals manager Ned Yost said Thursday that he has not lost trust in Moylan, the veteran reliever who returned to the Royals this season after a solid campaign in 2016.
“You look at the numbers from the outside, and it’s like ‘Holy (crap), this guy can’t get anyone out,’” Moylan said. “But it feels like I’m throwing well. And I’ve thrown the ball as well as I (ever) have.”
So what’s happened?
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Moylan believes some of the 9.20 ERA can be explained by poor luck, an assessment he loathes to make, while the other part stems from his inability to stop the bleeding while working in mop-up duty. Here are the specifics: For most of his career, Moylan has staked a reputation as a righty specialist, a side-armer who can neutralize right-handed hitters with a deceptive delivery and an effective slider. The skill-set makes him an ideal reliever for certain matchups in the sixth and seventh innings, and he worked his way into a high-leverage role with a strong start, opening April with 10 straight scoreless outings.
“He’s a guy that I like to use in the seventh inning or the sixth or seventh inning if we have a lead,” Yost said.
In his last 10 outings, however, Moylan has allowed 15 earned runs. He gave up five earned runs to the Chicago White Sox on April 24. He surrendered five in a 12-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on May 10. He allowed four in an 11-7 loss on Wednesday against the Yankees.
The situations have contained a common thread. In each, Moylan entered with the Royals trailing by at least three runs. Yost desired at least a full inning of work. Moylan was called on to get left-handers out.
“If it’s a close game, Ned’s not going to use me against those lefties,” Moylan said. “But in a game like last night, it’s my opportunity to show I can get those guys out.”
For now, Moylan has struggled to handle left-handed batters. In 20 games, they are hitting .571 against him while right-handers are batting just .239 with a .300 on-base percentage. This, however, is where Moylan and Yost believe some misfortune has played a role.
“If you look at the hits I’ve given up to lefties — the No. 9 hitter in Chicago hits one out on a hanging slider,” Moylan said. “But otherwise, it’s not like I’m getting smashed.”
As he prepared for his team’s series finale against New York on Thursday, Yost echoed the sentiments.
“His last 10 hits,” Yost said, “I guarantee eight of them have been jam shots or off the end of the bat or infield hits.”
For now, Yost appears poised to maintain his trust in Moylan. On Thursday, he said he does not view ERA as a fair metric for relievers. But Yost could be more cautious about the circumstances in which he deploys the side-armer. On Wednesday, Moylan entered with the Royals trailing 6-2 in the fifth inning against the Yankees. Yost did not want to burn up his bullpen in the middle innings. So Moylan faced four hitters who batted from the left side; he allowed two hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly while yielding four runs.
“In a situation where the game was tighter, he wouldn’t have faced those lefties, probably,” Yost said. “ … We don’t put him in that position. But when you’re down five, you’re trying to stay away from (left-handers Mike) Minor and (Matt) Strahm.”