Kelvin Herrera is the longest tenured healthy member of the Royals bullpen. But is he still getting better?
As the Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, continuing with the bullpen.
Today, we will be looking at Kelvin Herrera.
"2015 stats – 4-3, 2.71 ERA, 64 SO, 26 BB, 1.12 WHIP, 3.44 FIP2016 Steamer – 3-3, 3.24 ERA, 56 SO, 20 BB, 1.21 WHIP, 3.39 FIP"
Projected Role – High Leverage Reliever
Kelvin Herrera has spent his career in the shadows of a better reliever.
In 2014 and 2015, it was Wade Davis, who topped Holland’s 2013 by consecutively having two of the greatest, if not the greatest, seasons by a relief pitcher in baseball history.
All the while, Herrera has been the horse of the Royals bullpen.
Since 2012, Herrera has thrown 41 more innings than any Royals reliever, as well as appearing in 29 more games than the next closest reliever.
2015 continued that trend, with Herrera throwing 69.2 innings in 72 appearances, both a team high.
In those 72 games, Herrera maintained his normal effectiveness, holding opposing hitters to a .206/.281/.298 slash, good for .578 OPS.
That OPS figure trails only that of 2014 for his career best, while he also saw a bump in strikeouts from that 2014 season.
Also staying consistent was his velocity, which has sat at 97 MPH basically since he entered the league. Here’s what Brooks Baseball has to say about this velocity.
"His fourseam fastball generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, is thrown at a speed that’s borderline unfair, has slightly less natural movement than typical and has some added backspin. His sinker generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, is thrown at a speed that’s borderline unfair, has surprisingly little armside run and has little sinking action compared to a true sinker. His change is thrown extremely hard, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ changeups and has slight armside fade."
That’s a very long, repetitive quote, I know. But I still love it, because all of his pitches are thrown at speeds that are “borderline unfair,” including his changeup. His sinker is actually thrown harder than his four-seam fastball. How is that possible?
Because his two-seam fastball generates so much movement that it has to be classified as a sinker.
Herrera has dominate stuff, but you already knew that.
As for 2016, what is really supposed to be added to the expectation list?
This will be Herrera’s sixth season in a Royals uniform, yet he won’t turn 27 until after the 2016 season. He just turned 26 this past December.
If he stays healthy, Herrera should have plenty left in his arm.
Steamer doesn’t particularly like Herrera, which isn’t surprising. The discrepancy between Herrera’s ERA and FIP is sure to scare away any projection system.
However, Herrera had a similar discrepancy in 2014 while striking out few hitters. As we saw in 2015, Herrera turned out just fine.
The thing that really makes Herrera as projection-proof as any other Royal is the fact that we have such a vast amount of productive sample size, along with an injury history that is virtually non-existent.
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In fact, there is more reason to be excited about Herrera for 2016 than there is to be concerned or even content.
For starters, he was absolutely lights out in the playoffs. And I’m not talking about the version of lights out that we just discussed with Hochevar.
Herrera was dominate.
In his 13.2 innings, he struck out 22 batters, while only walking three, giving up just two hits, and giving up a single run.
The hilarious part was that his BABIP was .345. When opponents hit the ball, they were finding holes. They just weren’t making contact.
Corresponding with that dominant postseason performance, has been the development of his slider.
This is the part that should really get you excited.
Alongside many Royals fans, I noticed him throwing his slider more in the postseason than he had all season.
Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs also noticed this. Seriously, read the article. It gave me warm and fuzzy feelings.
Here’s what Sullivan had to say about the emergence of the Herrera’s slider.
"Herrera was in the market for a third pitch — not because it was necessary, but because he thought it could make him better. Herrera started trying to develop a slider. You don’t just get confidence in a new pitch right away, but the usage clearly shows that Herrera is feeling good in the right month.1st Half: 4% breaking balls2nd Half: 7%Playoffs: 25%It’s like he’s a different pitcher."
Did you notice how many breaking balls he threw in the postseason? Do you remember me telling you how he was striking everybody out in the playoffs? Are you connecting the dots.
I think you are. If you’re not excited about Herrera, you should be. If this all blows up in my face and he becomes 2013 Herrera again, you won’t remember this article anyway.