Last year, in their improbable march to the World Series, the Royals made us all witnesses to the firepower of their fully armed and operational bullpen. It was a tremendous weapon that shortened games to six innings (at the most) and allowed them to blow their opponents away. With the exception of Game 5 of the World Series (where Brandon Finnegan imploded), Royals relievers put up a 1.85 ERA in 58.1 innings, with 68 strikeouts.
This year, their weapon is threatening to malfunction, however. Closer Greg Holland has struggled with injuries all season, and is currently nursing a tight elbow. He has a 3.83 ERA and hast looked incredibly vulnerable since the start of August, walking eight and allowing nine runs in 13 innings. So Ned Yost has resolved to shake things up, demoting Holland and reinstalling the phenomenal Wade Davis in the closing role.
Davis has been a man on fire all year, striking out 70 batters in 62.2 innings and allowing just seven runs. During his stint as closer while Holland was out, he saved 13 of 13. He's also gotten the win in eight of his games, a testament to how freely he's been used in tied or close situations, and how he's managed to keep the Royals within striking distance.
And it's that freedom to use him in the eighth inning that the Royals are going to miss as they define his role at the back end of the bullpen. Davis has been, by far, Kansas City's best pitcher in 2015, and he's been used in tie games 18 times, and while the team is behind four. Now as the closer, he will almost always be in the game with his team ahead, while lesser pitchers like Kelvin Herrera or Ryan Madson each get bumped up a spot until, hopefully, Holland bounces back.
Now, that's not to say that the Royals are in trouble. Herrera and Madson (and Franklin Morales and Luke Hochevar) are all excellent pitchers. The Royals have an embarrassment of effective relievers with which they can mix and match at the end of games.
But before he got tidal-locked into his new role, Davis was a weapon who could be deployed in a lot of different situations and defend in all different directions. Now he's a gun that only points in one direction, while the Royals' flank will be defended by those dumb little laser cannons that can't take out smaller fighters when they get in close or sneak up from behind.
Listen, this has been an extended, and perhaps belabored, Star Wars metaphor. But I swear I'm going somewhere, so bear with me. The Death Star was the most powerful weapon in the universe, but was hampered by its size and inability to maneuver (come at me, nerds). It was the product of an empire that could only see one way to fight, and that's what ultimately led to its downfall. That, and the fact that the Emperor underestimated his control over Vader and, for some reason felt the need to be present at the final battle even though he had a galaxy to run.
Anyway, I'm getting away from the point. The point is that this is dumb. Davis is fantastic and should be used more, not less. Guys like Madson and Herrera should be used less, not more. The difference between a good and a great closer, especially in such rigid usage patterns, is incredibly small. While the ability to use Davis in close and late situations for more than a single inning is incredibly valuable. Why would you make your best weapon less effective before the final battle between good and evil has even begun?