The Kansas City Royals posted the MLB‘s lowest team ERA last season thanks in large part to their hard-throwing crew of relievers. Kansas City’s bullpen took one considerable hit in the offseason, and their only chances to upgrade through Will Smith‘s replacement come from within the franchise. It seems like lefty reliever Francisley Bueno firmly holds the final bullpen roster spot, but can he do enough to fill Smith’s shoes in 2014?
Bueno recorded a 1.50 ERA through 12 Cactus League innings. He walked three, struck out 11 and recorded an impressive 1.08 WHIP. Recreating this kind of production in the regular season would make Bueno a fan favorite quickly, but his lack of experience leaves much to be proven. Bueno displayed his talents in eight innings of scoreless regular season game-time last year, but nobody was thrilled to see Smith go.
It’s a downgrade, but Bueno could prove, even in his ninth year of pro ball, to be the better reliever if he can continue his current production. Don’t let Smith’s success with KC in late 2013 make you forget that Smith experienced only marginal success in two looks at the big league level while still here. He recorded an ERA of 5.23 in 16 starts as a Royals in 2012 then transitioned to the bullpen and posted a 3.24 ERA in 33.1 innings last year. In an admittedly small sample size of 25.2 innings over the last two years, Bueno allowed only three earned runs at the major league level.
This isn’t to say that Will Smith is a bust. In fact, he may be an integral part of the Milwaukee Brewers‘ future. After some deliberation about moving the former Royal reliever to their starting rotation, it seems the Brew Crew will at least keep Smith in the bullpen to start the season. In 13 innings, he compiled a 2.08 Spring Training ERA.
Smith will be missed, and predicting that Bueno will be better out of the pen than Smith was without more evidence would be overly optimistic. Bueno still shows a lot of promise, and the simple fact that KC kept the rest of the relief crew intact guaranteed that they would enter the season with the bullpen as a major strength.
Just like my previous predictions entry, I predict that this facet of the 2014 roster will account for one less regular season victory than last year’s. That’s another -1 score, and if you’re paying attention, this puts KC at 84 wins without any further change. In Part 3 of this prediction marathon, a part of the team will finally show some much-needed improvement. Stay tuned for that and much more.