Royals' Top 5 relief pitchers: Flanagan's take

June 8th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Royals' all-time best: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP | LHP

Here is Jeffrey Flanagan’s ranking of the top 5 relievers in Royals history.

1) , 1979-88
Key facts: Three-time All-Star, led American League in saves five times

The new generation of Royals fans may not realize how amazing Quisenberry was during an era when relievers truly had to earn their saves -- there were no room-service saves back then. When Quiz pitched, “closers” routinely pitched multiple innings to get their save.

While Quisenberry’s 238 career saves as a Royal are second to Jeff Montgomery’s club-record 304, most of Montgomery’s saves came as baseball began transitioning relievers to specific ninth-inning roles. Although to be completely fair to Montgomery, he was a workhorse who could have fit in well during Quisenberry’s era -- during Montgomery’s peak 45-save season in 1993, 17 of those required one-plus innings.

But consider this: Of Quisenberry’s 238 saves, over half (120) required six outs or more. And for his career, Quisenberry averaged 1.73 innings per save, second only all time to Hoyt Wilhelm’s 1.85.

What’s also remarkable about Quisenberry’s career was his pinpoint accuracy. He had only 92 unintentional walks over his entire career, which consisted of 1,043 1/3 innings. He threw a grand total of four wild pitches in his career.

Yet for someone around the plate that often, Quisenberry did not surrender many home runs – 0.5 per nine innings as a Royal.

“When you look at Quiz’s numbers,” Montgomery said, “they are incredible.”

Quisenberry was so good during his peak that he finished in the top five of Cy Young Award voting five times, finishing runner-up twice.

From 1980-87, Quisenberry posted a 2.49 ERA over 521 appearances.

2) , 1988-99
Key facts: Three-time All-Star, Royals' career saves leader at 304

As mentioned earlier, Montgomery could have pitched in any era of baseball. He was a fierce competitor who could throw any of his pitches any time in the count. And he didn’t give in to hitters.

“Monty simply knows how to pitch,” former manager Hal McRae once said. “There are throwers and pitchers, and Monty is a pitcher. He knows hitters’ weaknesses and he exploits them. He’s the guy you want to close out games.”

During his peak years with the Royals from 1989-93, Montgomery saved 159 games while posting a 2.22 ERA. He also kept the ball in the park -- 0.5 home runs per nine innings.

Montgomery’s best season came in '93 when he led the American League in saves with 45. He had a 2.27 ERA that season.

Related

3) , 2010-15
Key facts: Back-to-back All-Star (2013, '14)

On the subject of fierce competitors, Holland ranks up there. As one of his Royals teammate once said, “If his right arm fell off during a game, he’d try to get you out left-handed. And probably would.”

Holland was part of the famed trio along with Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis that dominated the league several years back.

Holland, fourth on Kansas City’s all-time saves list with 145, was clutch in the 2014 postseason with seven saves and a 0.82 ERA. And from '11-14, he recorded 113 saves with a 1.86 ERA.

Holland pitched the '15 season with a partially torn UCL and still managed 32 saves before being shut down in late September and undergoing Tommy John surgery.

4) , 2013-16
Key facts: Had 0.36 ERA in postseason with Royals

Some Royals fans may be shocked to see Davis this low on the list. And true, if we were judging purely on short-term dominance, Davis would be No. 1, by far.

From 2014-16, Davis arguably was the best reliever in baseball, posting an insane 1.18 ERA and a 0.892 WHIP while saving 47 games. He finished eighth in Cy Young Award voting in '14 and sixth in '15.

A two-time All-Star, Davis was even more dominant in the postseason for the Royals: In 20 games, he had a 0.36 ERA. And no Royals fan will forget his heroic save in Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS.

5) , 2007-11, '16-17
Key facts: Two-time All-Star

It’s somewhat of a shame Soria has to be this low on the list while being third on the franchise’s saves list with 162. And again, some of today’s Royals fans who came aboard during the 2014 and '15 runs only know Soria from his struggles during his second stint with Kansas City in ’16-17.

But Soria was a stud for five seasons during his first time with the Royals, posting a 2.40 ERA and a 1.043 WHIP with 160 saves.

Honorable mention

Kelvin Herrera (2011-18), a two-time All-Star, was as good a setup man as there was for a long stretch. He posted a 1.41 ERA in 70 games in '14.

Steve Farr (1985-90), who was known as “The Beast,” had 49 saves and a 3.05 ERA with the Royals.