Sep 5, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera (40) delivers a pitch in the eleventh inning of the game against the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kelvin Herrera and the Tale of Two Halves of a Season

Aug 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera (40) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning of the game against the Miami Marlins at Kauffman Stadium. Miami won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kelvin Herrera burst onto the major league scene in 2012. After a less than impressive September debut in 2011, Herrera established himself as a major part of the Kansas City Royals bullpen. Armed with an explosive fastball and an excellent change, Herrera quickly became one of the Royals primary set up men. His performance that season, a 4-3 record with a 2.35 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 84.1 innings, appeared to signal that the Royals had another young fireballer to pair with Greg Holland to close out games. Herrera appeared to be on the verge of becoming a truly dominant reliever.

Instead, it turned out that the 2013 season was a tale of two halves for Herrera. Perhaps due to the pressure of being the Royals primary eighth inning option at the start of the season, Herrera struggled at the start of the year. Through June 23rd, when he was demoted back to the minors, Herrera was 3-5 with a 5.20 ERA. His strikeout to walk rate, which had been an excellent 3.67 in 2012, had decreased to 2.2. He just was not the same pitcher.

After spending a month in the minor leagues, Kelvin Herrera found himself once again. Inserted right back into the eighth inning upon his return on June 19th, Herrera finished out the 2013 season by going 2-2 with a 2.64 ERA over the final two and a half months. His strikeout to walk rate skyrocketed to just under seven to one, as he struck out 41 batters while issuing only six walks.

Typically, an increase in control of that magnitude indicates that a hard throwing pitcher dialed back the speed slightly. Yet, in Herrrera’s case, it was the exact opposite. After averaging 98.2 MPH with his fastball prior to being demoted, Herrera actually averaged 98.75 MPH upon his return. The biggest difference is that Herrera began mixing up his pitches more, using his changeup more frequently. With the 12 MPH difference between his fastball and changeup, Herrera was able to keep opposing batters off balance, getting them to strike out or ground out weakly.

At age 24 heading into this upcoming season, Herrera has already experienced both success and failure at the major league level. His struggles at the start of the 2013 season, and subsequent success in the second half, may be all that Herrera needed to become that second dominating arm to close out games for the Royals.

The Royals bullpen was the strength of the ballclub last season. If Kelvin Herrera is able to replicate his second half performance throughout the entirety of 2014, that may help to make an already strong relief corps that much better in the upcoming year.

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  • Mungakc

    David – good analysis on Herrera; I’d like to see a similar breakdown on Collins. My perception of his season is that he wasn’t using his hammer curve the first 4 months nearly as much as previous seasons and his effectiveness diminished. Then is seems that he started employing it more the last 1/3 of the season and his results improved. Do the numbers confirm my perception? Thanks,

    • Dave Hill

      I’ll have something on Collins up around noon tomorrow.

      • Eric Akers

        Where is the pep,man? We need our info pronto.

        Kidding aside, there was also the matter of the 8 home runs before the all star break, and only 1 afterwards. For the year he had a 1.4 HR/9 versus a ridiculous 0.4 in 2012. This rate would improve for the same reason as his K/BB ratio. Major leaguers can hit 100 mph fastball, especially if they know its coming.

        • Dave Hill

          Was already partly done with an article for tonight when I saw the comment. :)

          Collins is an interesting case. His 2011 season was fairly similar to 2013, so I wonder if 2012 is going to be the outlier. That may be the hypothesis I work from on the post.

  • Mungakc

    now that’s what I call customer service!