The bullpen is the toughest part of the team to predict. So I don’t even try to do that.
Let’s talk about the players who are in the mix to be in the bullpen. And I’ll start with any of the top starting pitching prospects. Daniel Lynch, Asa Lacy, and Jackson Kowar are all options for the bullpen if the Royals decide to go that route. Even Kris Bubic could be moved to the bullpen if Jakob Junis takes his spot in the rotation. I’ll remind you that I am a big fan of breaking starting pitchers into the big leagues in a relief role.
Beyond those players who might or might not be there, we do have some players that seem to be no-brainers for a spot.
Greg Holland was terrific in 2020. He posted an ERA OF 1.91 in 28 games. He was 3-0 with six saves. I know, I know. Records aren’t important for pitchers any longer. That’s what they tell me. But not a single loss was charged to Holland in his 28 games. I’ll say that’s impressive even if the “experts” won’t.
Scott Barlow made 32 appearances in 2020 and allowed a run in just seven of those games. And in four of those games, he allowed more than one run. While stats are important and can tell a story, you have to look deeper. In 25 of his 32 appearances, Barlow was excellent. In three others, he was human. And in four, he really struggled. Even though he finished with a 4.20 ERA, you have to be happy with his season.
Josh Staumont is another solid relief pitcher for the Royals. In his 26 outings, he allowed a run in just four of them, and only two were more than one run. He posted a 2.45 ERA in 26 innings.
Those three pitchers were really good in 2020, but none matched what Jesse Hahn did for the club. Hahn had a 0.52 ERA in 17 1/3 innings. Will Hahn be the closer in 2021? I tend to think it will be Holland, but Hahn has the ability just as do Staumont and Barlow.
Those four are the pitchers I would expect to appear in high-leverage situations. If those guys struggle, then it’s going to be a long year for the Royals. If they are at the top of their game, then the Royals have a chance for a really good season.
Then there are several pitchers fighting for spots that all have question marks. Can Wade Davis return to form? He was terrible with the Rockies, and I don’t think it was all that he was in Colorado. Can Kyle Zimmer continue what he did last year? He had his best season in the majors, and I credited a lot of that to Ned Yost being gone. Yost had it out for Zimmer.
Brad Brach, a late free-agent signing, was pretty good with Baltimore in recent seasons. Tyler Zuber was pretty good in his first major league season. Can Richard Lovelady be better than he was in 2020? And what will Jake Newberry do? Tim Hill is back with the Royals. His delivery is funky, and you would think it would be difficult for hitters to pick up, but clearly, it isn’t from the stats he has compiled.
There are a bunch of pitchers fighting for a bullpen spot. But Holland, Barlow, Staumont, and Hahn will probably set the tone of whether the bullpen will be good or not in 2021.