Kansas City Royals: Ned Yost Removes Kelvin Herrera from Closer Role

KC Royals, Kelvin Herrera (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images
KC Royals, Kelvin Herrera (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images /

The Kansas City Royals are officially without a closer. Manager Ned Yost announced the demotion of Kelvin Herrera in favor of a closer-by-committee approach. But why did it take so long?

Kelvin Herrera has struggled mightily as the closer for the Kansas City Royals recently. Twice in a two-week span, he had to be bailed out by Scott Alexander with two outs in the ninth inning.

Alexander wasn’t there to save him on Thursday as the Kansas City Royals lost a heartbreaker to the Twins. Herrera allowed three runs in the ninth, allowing Minnesota to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 victory.

So it came as no surprise when manager Ned Yost announced on Friday that Herrera would be removed from his closer role. According to MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan, a committee consisting of Alexander, Mike Minor and Brandon Maurer will replace Herrera.

In response, Kansas City Royals fans in unison (probably) yelled, “What took so (expletive) long?”

Herrera has been outstanding over the past few years when asked to hold down the fort in the seventh or eighth innings. He even did moderately well for much of the season when put in actual save-situations. But control issues often flared up, particularly when asked to pitch the top of the ninth in a tie game or with a narrow deficit.

The move is long overdue.

Yost’s loyalty to his players is admirable, but it has arguably been his greatest downfall this year. Sticking with veterans like Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar have hampered the offense, while his loyalty to Herrera has cost the team a handful of wins.

None bigger than Thursday’s. It was a situation Herrera, frankly, should never have been put in given his recent history.

Prior to entering Thursday’s game against the current holder of the American League’s second Wild Card spot, Herrera last appeared in a game the previous Friday in Minnesota. In that game, Herrera left with a forearm issue that previously forced him out of a game against Colorado on Aug. 22.

For Herrera to not pitch competitively in almost a week, and then be asked to close out a monumental one-run game is ludicrous. He was apparently healthy enough to be available on Tuesday, so why not pitch him in a low-leverage situation first? There were chances in both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games—each finishing 13-2 in Detroit.

Some will say Herrera was let down by his defense on Thursday. They will say if Gordon or Escobar catch the pop-up down the left-field line we aren’t having this discussion right now. And they are probably correct.

We wouldn’t be having it right now.

The chances of Herrera lasting the rest of the season in the closer’s role have looked slim for a long time. It was becoming a matter of when—not if—Yost would make a change.

He waited too long.

It’s easy to see why Yost—knowing what we know about him—went back to Herrera after he recovered from the initial forearm issue. But there is no justification for returning to him after the second.


Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals /

Kansas City Royals

Alexander has done admirable in his limited closer duties. Some will argue he should be handed the role outright. (I did as much earlier this week.) But he has also been great in the same super-reliever role that Andrew Miller showcased for Cleveland during its World Series run last year.

He pitched the sixth and part of the seventh innings last night, which is why he was unavailable in the ninth. Instead, Maurer was called on to get out of the inning—albeit after the Twins had taken the lead.

Maurer has the most ninth-inning experience of the committee members. He spent much of the season closing for the Padres before coming over to Kansas City Royals near the July trade deadline. However, he has been wildly inconsistent since joining the Boys In Blue.

Had he performed better, Maurer likely would have been handed the reins to the ninth inning a long time ago. He closed out Sunday’s one-run win in Minnesota, getting three straight outs after the leadoff man reached second base. Maurer, though, imploded when asked to protect a four-run lead on Monday.

Minor has been pitching mostly in the eighth inning since Joakim Soria hit the disabled list. Aside from a back-breaking home run given up to Colorado on Aug. 24, Minor has pitched fairly well in the role. After a sensational first half of the season, he came back down to earth the latter part of July and into August before his recent rebound.

Whomever winds up getting the bulk of the save opportunities, it will always feel like this move came too late.

The Kansas City Royals are not a good enough team to give away games.

Yet, they have done so on numerous occasions. To be sure, it hasn’t always been Herrera. Soria has let his fair share of leads slip away, as has Minor and Maurer.

It will be interesting (or is terrifying the right word) to see Yost try to hand a closer-by-committee situation. He has always seemed to struggle with bullpen management during games. But this year has seen him struggle just as much (if not more ) with managing bullpen roles.

Next: Where Royals Stack Up in Playoff Race

It’s one of many reasons the Kansas City Royals are facing the increased likelihood of an October without playoff baseball.