There is ominous news out of Kansas City, where the Royals have put Wade Davis on the disabled list with a right forearm strain. The move is retroactive to July 1, making the utterly dominant Davis eligible to return on July 16. Kansas City will call up righty Brooks Pounders (fantastic baseball name, by the way) to take his place.
Davis has a 1.23 ERA in 29.1 innings this year, striking out 28 batters. The sparkling ERA hides an alarming drop in Davis’s strikeout rate, and rise in his walk rate. It also comes with a decreased velocity in the early part of 2016 that has climbed steadily back to normal. Through it all, Davis has still been effective, saving 19 games in 21 chances, and winning another game in relief. Hopefully, Davis can return quickly and fully healed, but it should be noted that forearm strains can be the precursor to serious elbow trouble of the Tommy John surgery-requiring variety.
Pounders is a 25 year old former starter, drafted in the second round of 2009, who transitioned to relief in early May. Since then, he’s thrown 26.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA and 38 strikeouts against 13 walks. He also has appeared almost exclusively in multi-inning appearances, making him an interesting bullpen option for the Royals if he can be effective.
Much of the Royals’ success over the last four years traces back to the powerhouse bullpen that Dayton Moore built. Davis has been the central part of that, with a 1.01 ERA over 168.2 innings since 2014, with 215 strikeouts.
That bullpen has taken some big hits recently. Greg Holland succumbed to Tommy John Surgery last year, elevating Davis into the closer role and Danny Duffy has been moved into the starting rotation to cover for a suspect starting rotation. The back end of that bullpen, including Joakim Soria, Luke Hochevar, Dillon Gee, Chien-Ming Wang, and others has proven more or less effective, but far less dominating that Ned Yost has gotten used to having on hand.
Now, with Davis out too, Kelvin Herrera gets his chance to step into the closer role. As much as Herrera deserves the honor, this is bad news for the Royals. Herrera has actually outpitched Davis this year by a significant amount. Oh, his 1.40 ERA isn’t quite as exciting, but Herrrera has allowed just seven walks in 38.2 innings, against 49 strikeouts. Because of the backwards, save-driven organization of the moder bullpen, moving him into the closer role means that Herrera will pitch less often, and in situations less in need of his utter dominance.
Honestly, the smarter move would be to let former closer Joakim Soria take over the role temporarily, so that Herrera can still be deployed in high leverage situations in the seventh and eighth innings. But there’s no way that the Royals are going to do that.