How bad was it? The Royals’ bullpen broke more records than the White Sox on Disco Demolition Night. Ray Bradbury’s agent was calling them to pose for the cover of “Fahrenheit 451”. In “Close & Late” situations, over 728 at-bats, Royals’ opponents hit a ridiculous .328/.404/.520, turning every hitter into Gary Sheffield. Never before had a team blown more saves than they had recorded; the Royals saved just 29 of 59 games. The Royals were the first team in AL history to record a Rolaids Relief score below zero. According to Tom Ruane, the Royals’ 11-32 record in one-run games was the worst by any team in over 60 years. The four worst winning percentages in one-run games this century:
Year Team W L Pct.
1935 Boston (NL) 7 31 .184
1937 St. Louis (AL) 10 31 .244
1999 Kansas City 11 32 .256
1916 Philadelphia (AL) 11 32 .256
The 1937 St. Louis Browns finished 46-108 - and they were the best of the other three teams on this list. The 1935 Braves finished 38-115, the second-worst record this century. The worst? Those 1916 Athletics (36-117). Three teams with overall winning percentages in the .200s, and last year’s Royals. Wow.
As historic as their futility in close games was, it was the Royals’ collapse at the end of games that is so damning on the bullpen. The Royals, owners of the third-worst record in baseball, were better than .500 through 6 innings. Consider this chart, where “expected wins” assumes the Royals won all the games they were leading, and half the games they were tied:
Inning 6 7 8 Final
Ahead 73 70 66 64
Tied 20 15 14 0
Behind 68 76 81 97
Expected Wins 83 77.5 73 64
Through 6 innings, the Royals were 73-68 with 20 ties, yet by game’s end were 64-97. They slipped 19 games in the standings after the 6th inning. Nineteen games. Inning-by-inning data is not available prior to 1980, but with Keith Woolner’s help, we found that over the last 20 years, the 1985 Pirates had held the record with an 18-game drop. After 7 innings, the Royals 13.5-game drop broke the record of 12, previously held by the 1997 Cubs.
You get the point. This isn’t your standard “we would have won 10 more games with a good bullpen” sob story. This was the Real McCoy. The 1999 Royals were the worst late-inning team of at least the last 20 years, and the worst close-game team of the last 60.
- Baseball Prospectus 2000
I wrote those words over a decade ago, and I never thought I would see a worse bullpen in my lifetime. I probably won’t – the season is still young, after all. But the 2010 Royals are giving the 1999 Royals a run for the money – and that’s with a shutdown closer in Joakim Soria.
Let’s compare the two head-to-head:
The 1999 Royals were 29 of 59 in save opportunities – as mentioned above, the first team in history to have more blown saves than actual saves. The 2010 Royals are 6 of 13 in save opportunities.
The 1999 bullpen had a composite 5.77 ERA. The 2010 bullpen has a 6.61 ERA. (And remember, 1999 was the peak of the juiced era – the league ERA was 4.86. The ERA of the American League this year – keep in mind that offense usually is down in April – is just 4.11.)
The 1999 bullpen allowed opposing hitters to bat .303/.385/.479. Against the 2010 bullpen, opposing hitters are batting .306/.408/.502.
The 1999 bullpen allowed 124 runs in the 7th inning (0.77 runs per game), and 111 runs in the 8th inning (0.69 runs per game). The 2010 bullpen, through 20 games, has allowed 23 runs in the 7th (1.15 runs per game) and 14 runs in the 8th (0.70 runs per game). That’s right – the team is allowing OVER ONE RUN AN INNING in the seventh.
The 1999 Royals were just 53-20 (.726) in games they were leading after 6 innings, and 55-15 (.786) in games they were leading after 7. The 2010 Royals are 5-6 (.455) in games they lead after 6, but 7-2 (.778) in games they lead after 8.
As shown in the chart above, the 1999 Royals were 73-68 with 20 ties after 6 innings – their “expected record” was 83-78, but they finished 64-97. In other words, they lost 19 games between the end of 6 innings and the end of the game. They lost 10.5 games after 7 innings, and 9 games after 8 innings.
After 6 innings, the 2010 Royals are 11-6 with 3 ties. (Read that again.) Their expected record is 12.5 – 7.5, which would put them in second place, just 2 games behind the Twins. Instead they are 8-12. Just 20 games into the season, the Royals have already lost 4.5 games after 6 innings. After 7 innings, they are 9-10 with one tie; they’ve lost 1.5 games after 7. They are 7-11 with 2 ties after 8 innings; thanks to Soria, their record hasn’t dropped at all after the 8th inning.
By almost every metric, the 2010 Royals have performed worse to this point than their 1999 counterparts. This is astonishing, given that the Royals have one of the best closers in baseball at their disposal. Partly thanks to Soria, and partly thanks to the Royals coming back after Kyle Farnsworth had given up the go-ahead run in extra innings against Detroit, the Royals’ record in one-run games is actually 4-4. Which, if anything, makes the performance of the bullpen even worse. The 1999 Royals suffered from bad luck as much as a bad bullpen; the bullpen found a way to give up just enough runs to lose, and the offense shut down in the late innings. By contrast, the 2010 Royals have actually come back in the late innings twice – once against the Tigers in the 11th, and once on Rick Ankiel’s bloop single in the 8th to beat the Red Sox. Without a more productive offense, the situation could be even more dire.
The closer for the 1999 Royals was Jeff Montgomery, who was on his last legs – he would retire after the season. Monty had just 12 saves and a whopping 6.84 ERA. Take out his performance, and the team’s middle relievers had a 5.64 ERA. Take out Soria’s performance this season (just 2 runs allowed in 9 innings), and the middle relievers this season have allowed 44 earned runs in 53.2 innings – a 7.38 ERA.
Yogi was right. It’s déjà vu all over again.