In baseball, there are things that I like to call “pillars” which make the game run as a whole. One of those pillars is the bullpen with your relief and closing pitchers. The Kansas City Royals had the best bullpen in baseball in 2014 with three pitchers sporting sub 1.50 ERA. If you jump forward to the present day, the Royals again are on the verge of having another dominant bullpen. While it is still very early to say the 2021 Royals pen is elite, they have proved themselves time and time again already this season.
Again, we are barely into the 2021 season, but seeing the success of this season’s Royals bullpen got my mind racing. Would I take the ’14 Royals pen or this year’s pen? Let’s discuss:
2021 Royals Bullpen
I feel it is only fair to provide some sort of context as to why this is even a conversation. First, this year’s pen went 16 scoreless innings during their first long road trip of the season. If you do not know already, to throw 16 innings of baseball and not allow a single run is one of the most difficult feats for any pitcher, not to mention three to four pitchers. This bullpen features two pitchers with sub 2.50 ERA’s as well as an incredible emerging talent in Josh Staumont with a 0.68 ERA.
Giving credit where it is due is important, especially with this bullpen squad. While they are not striking out the side like the 2014 pen managed to, this bullpen is producing outs and limiting runs regardless of how they produce outs. Give this bullpen more time to develop and keep their production going and I would not be surprised to see them ranking at the top of MLB in a few categories.
2014 Royals Bullpen
The result of what the Royals bullpen produced in 2014-15 speaks for itself. As I mentioned earlier, they featured three subs 1.50 ERA in their three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. While you cannot compare a full season of work to not even a quarter of a season for the 2021 guys, that is what the situation is. This 2014 trio was one of only two teams with pitchers with a sub 1.5 ERA and 50 plus strikeouts; the other was the 2013 Texas Rangers. The 2014 bullpen went down as arguably one of the best bullpens of all time, and yes, I mean it when I say all time.
This bullpen tied enough records that I could write a dissertation on them if I wanted to. Records such as being only the second team to have three pitchers pitch more than 60 innings each and all three allow fewer than 15 earned runs. That stat alone is absolutely mind-boggling to think about considering the teams that the Royals faced in 2014. Unfortunately, the Royals ran into a dominant Giants team in the 2014 world series and lost in seven games but the bullpens track record still stood tall.
While this topic is purely hypothetical and meant to make someone think, there is an obvious answer here. The 2014 Royals bullpen is one of the best pens to touch a baseball diamond, and that is undeniable. I would take the 2014 pen over this year’s bullpen 10 times over, but again, it is fun to think about.
This year’s pen is having a stellar start and could end up having a great year, but they still need to fix a few things to be at the 2014 pens level. It is not often that one of the pillars of baseball becomes the foundation for a team and cruises them into two consecutive World Series trips, and one of those trips ends in a title. Keep the 2021 Royals pen on the radar though, but don’t compare them to 2014 just yet.
Final Pick: 2014 Royals Bullpen
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Stats from baseballreference.com and mlb.com