The Kansas City Royals have the best bullpen in baseball. When they have a lead after six innings, the Royals record is 31-4. With a lead after seven, it’s 32-1 and if the Royals have a lead after eight innings, their record is 36-1.
So the Royals’ game plan is pretty simple; grab a lead somewhere in the first six innings and then give the ball to the bullpen. Now here’s what makes that difficult: the Royals starting rotation ranks 28th in baseball and second-to-last in the American League.
On Tuesday night, starting pitcher Yordano Ventura threw 5 1/3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals and gave up seven runs; when a starting pitcher does that, having the best bullpen in baseball doesn’t matter.
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When a starting pitcher throws at least six innings and gives up no more than three earned runs, that’s a quality start. Some people quibble about the worth of this stat, but it answers an important question:
Did the starting pitcher throw enough innings to get the ball to the back end of the bullpen and did the starting pitcher keep the score low enough to give his offense a chance? (OK, technically that’s two questions, but you get the point.)
When a Royals starting pitcher works less than six innings, the team record 15-25. If the Royals starting pitcher works exactly six innings the team record is 10-4 and if the starter goes more than six innings, the team record is 15-7. When the Royals score three runs or less their record is 7-26; when they score four runs or more their record is 33-10.
After 76 games, the Royals have had 28 quality starts, so about 63 percent of the time the Royals starting pitchers are forcing the team to expose their middle relievers or their offense to score more than four runs.
Quality starts matter less for the Royals because their bullpen is so deep, but quality starts still matter and the Royals aren’t getting enough of them.
But the Royals are still lucky to be where they are
The Royals are last in the American League in home runs, last in walks, tied for 12th in runs scored and their starting rotation is second-to-last in collective ERA. They’ve lost their starting third baseman for the entire year, their starting left fielder for a significant amount of time, had their starting second baseman flop and now it looks like their starting center fielder may be out for a while.
You’d think a team will all those problems would be at the bottom of the standings; but despite all that, the Royals have a winning record and are still within striking distance of the first-place Cleveland Indians. The Royals have managed to stay competitive because they had enough depth to cover the injuries, play good defense, and have that terrific bullpen.
But they still need their starting rotation to be better.
Edinson Volquez was ejected from Tuesday night’s game after chirping at home plate umpire Tim Timmons.
I have no inside information on Volquez’ ejection, but I can tell you something that may or may not be relevant: when an entire bench is riding an umpire, a smart umpire ejects a starting pitcher that isn’t pitching that day. The ejection shuts up the bench and ejecting a guy who isn’t going to play does not alter the outcome of the game.
If the whole bench was barking at Timmons — and I have no idea if that happened — ejecting a starting pitcher was the smart move.