1 Day until Spring Training: Get ready for the return of the Royals and their unstoppable bullpen
Spring Training will be here tomorrow! Let us keep you company until the first pitcher-and-catcher workouts on Thursday with a team-by-team countdown of reasons to get excited for the 2016 MLB season. Today: The Kansas City Royals.
When the DC universe needs saving, they call on the Justice League -- looking to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to bail them out. When the Marvel universe is in need, there are the Avengers -- Captain America, Iron Man and Thor ready to step in to protect the world.
While those famous groups are powerful and strong, they pale in comparison to the Royals' bullpen. With blazing fastballs, biting cutters and diving curves, they are baseball's own super team -- and deserve a Saturday morning cartoon show immediately.
The team was second in the Majors with a 2.72 relievers ERA last season, and performed even better in the postseason when Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Luck Hochevar combined for 35 innings of scoreless baseball en route to the Royals winning the World Seires. The bullpen will have a slightly different look this season, as former closer Greg Holland is currently a free agent after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but old friend Joakim Soria has returned and Tim Collins is on the mend from his own Tommy John operation.
Here is your handbook to these super friends:
Code Name: Closer
Powers: Fastball, cutter, immaculate beard growth
After struggling for years as a starter, Davis was converted to relief full time in 2014. All he's done since then: 17-3 with a 0.97 ERA in 139 1/3 IP. He's struck out over 12 batters per nine innings, walks fewer than three and generally disposes of batters like an unwelcome insect discovered on the ceiling.
He is the pitcher that makes you think, huh, maybe there are super-powered humans that walk the Earth.
Code Name: The Heat
Powers: Unbelievable velocity, ability to impose fear in batters
While Aroldis Chapman lapped the competition in velocity, topping 100 mph 197 times last year, Herrera came in second with 27 such pitches. That's no minor thing. After all, what batter wants to stand 60 feet, 6 inches away and know that a pitch topping triple digits is spinning in?
While Herrera wasn't able to keep his ERA below 2 for a second straight season last year, largely because he gave up an almost mortal-like five home runs, he's still a shutdown reliever who would be closing for almost every other team in the league.
Code Name: Arts and Crafts
Powers: Command of four pitches, ability to travel back in time
From 2007-11, Soria posted a 2.40 ERA and saved 160 games as one of the biggest stars on some weak Royals teams. But after missing all of 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Soria became a bit of a late-inning mercenary, spending less than two seasons with each of the Rangers, Tigers and Pirates. After posting his lowest ERA since his Royals days in 2015, Soria has come back to Kansas City to further decimate teams.
And he'll do it with his starter's-like repertoire of fastballs, sliders, curveballs and changeups. Relievers aren't supposed to be able to do that.
Code Name: The Glue
Powers: Fastball, cutter, staying in Kansas City
The former first overall pick is one of the longest-standing Royals players, having made his debut with the team in 2007. Only Alex Gordon has been with the team that long.
While Hochevar, like Davis, struggled in the rotation, a move to the bullpen unlocked the powers that lay dormant within him -- again, just like with Davis. Swapping out his slider for his cutter, Hochevar posted a 1.92 ERA and struck out nearly five batters for every walk in his first year in the 'pen. Unfortunately, the pitcher's kryptonite of Tommy John surgery knocked him out of 2014. While the right-hander was effective last year, he didn't quite match the heights of his 2013 season -- until the playoffs when he pitched 10 2/3 scoreless innings before getting the 'W' in the World Series' clinching game.
Code Name: Tom Collins, You Know, Like A the Drink
Powers: Changeup, curveball, Possessing the strength of men many times his size
Another pitcher on the comeback trail, the 5-foot-7 Collins missed all of last season after (you guessed it) Tommy John surgery. While he'll likely miss the start of the year, the Royals are looking forward to the lefty's return. Perhaps due to his repertoire, Collins is actually tougher on righties than same-sided batters.
For alone, they are strong. But together, they are unstoppable. They are B.U.L.L.P.E.N. (Brutal, Unstoppable, Long-Levered Pitchers, umm, Extra Neato).