Opinion

Comparing the stats against 2015: Is Royals’ bullpen better than a season ago?

Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera
Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera jsleezer@kcstar.com

This is the continuation of a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions. All numbers through Tuesday’s game.

Hitting

2015 — .269/.322/.412 (Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage)

2016 — .256/.308/.391

Last 7 games — .263/.331/.408

The offensive numbers continue to slowly tick up for the Royals, with the most production in the last week coming from two players. Paulo Orlando’s big Tuesday helped him to a .438/.471/.813 slash line for the week, while Eric Hosmer kept up his fast start with nine hits — including two doubles and a homer — with five walks in 28 plate appearances.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .248/.304/.378

The Royals saw improvement in all three of these numbers from a week ago, as they’ve hit .345 with runners in scoring position over the past seven games. It’ll be tough to match last year’s lofty standard, but even a slight uptick from a slow start should help KC produce more runs offensively.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.75, 19.2, 10.9

Last 7 games — 4.86, 17.0, 8.5

The Yankees series is still affecting this week’s numbers, as Ian Kennedy’s worst start as a Royal (6 1/3 innings, seven earned runs) limits the impact of strong starts by Edinson Volquez and Danny Duffy. Though the high walk numbers are concerning, the increased strikeouts continue to be a positive sign; the Royals have moved from 25th in starter strikeout percentage in 2015 to 18th this year.

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 2.70, 24.2, 7.8

Last 7 games — 1.52, 28.4, 6.3

It was another excellent week for the bullpen, which actually has better numbers across the board than last season. A newcomer was one of the highlights this week, as Scott Alexander allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. If he continues that kind of production, the Royals are going to have a hard time sending him back down when other pitchers return from the DL.

Defense

2015 — 51 defensive runs saved (.315 per game, 2nd in MLB)

2016 — 9 defensive runs saved (.237 per game, T-9th in MLB)

It’s hard to know how much to make of this, especially when larger samples are more reliable for measuring defense. I think it is safe, though, to assume that any claim that the Royals have the best defense in the majors this year is probably a stretch, especially with the off-the-chart numbers the Chicago Cubs have posted so far (24 defensive runs saved).

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Cain 6.6, Moustakas 3.8, Hosmer 3.5, Gordon 2.8, Ventura 2.7

2016 — Hosmer 1.1, Perez 0.9, Moustakas 0.9, Volquez 0.9, Herrera 0.8

At roughly the quarter-pole of the season, the Royals have plenty of good players but they are yet to have one trending as a superstar — at least according to Fangraphs’ version of WAR. Hosmer, who ranks 79th in WAR, is the closest, though his number is mostly being held down by a poor defensive rating that would seem to go against his reputation as one of the game’s best fielding first basemen. With KC’s bullpen depth, Kelvin Herrera probably remains underrated, as he’s posted 19 scoreless outings in 20 appearances.

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Infante -0.9, Guthrie -0.9, Almonte -0.4, Gomes -0.3, Coleman -0.2

2016 — Morales -0.8, Young -0.6, Fuentes -0.1, Infante 0.0, Gee 0.0

Morales’ walk-off homer Sunday was a nice moment, but his struggles — especially hitting left-handed — means that he’ll need to pick up his production significantly to even perform at the level of a readily available Class AAA hitter this season. Though he has two home runs in his last seven games, Morales hasn’t completely bounced back, hitting .208 over that time period with a .296 on-base percentage. Manager Ned Yost doesn’t like to change his lineup around, but if he did, moving Morales down from the cleanup spot would be a switch that would make statistical sense.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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