Kelvin Herrera and the Long Ball

USA TODAY Sports

He throws hard, he has nasty stuff and yet the balls still sail out of the park.

If it makes you feel any better, Kameron Loe has already given up 9 home runs in 11 relief appearances this season. Like the Royals' Kelvin Herrera, the Astros' Paul Clemens and Milwaukee's John Axford have also given up 6 home runs.

In 2012, 54 different relief pitchers surrendered 7 or more home runs during the season and 10 of those pitchers allowed double digit home run totals. In that group are a number of what most of us would consider very good relievers: closers, eighth inning guys, firemen. Basically a lot of pitchers that, when they entered a game one pretty much assumes your team is done scoring for the night.

Home runs happen to good pitchers. When they happen to good relievers, they come at the very worst times. Like the 11th inning of yesterday's game.

In 2012, Kelvin Herrera allowed just 4 home runs in 84 innings of work. His home run to fly ball percentage was just 6.9%. In just 14 innings this season, Kelvin has already allowed 6 home runs with a bizarrely high HR/FB of 37.5%. No reliever had a rate near that high in 2012 (Johnny Venters finished up at 24.0%) or 2011 (David Herndon 18.0%) or 2010 (Blake Hawkesworth 18.8%) or 2009 (Luis Perdomo 21.2%)...you get the picture. Certainly, Herrera is in for some positive regression in this area.

Is it all bad luck?

On April 16th against Atlanta, Herrera allowed the following home runs:

  • Jason Heyward on a 99 mph fastball right down the middle
  • Justin Upton on a 87 mph change-up at the very top of the strike zone
  • Dan Uggla on a 99 mph fastball basically in the same spot as the one thrown to Heyward
On April 20th against Boston, Herrera served up an 88 mph change-up in the middle of the plate low, but certainly not low enough in the zone to Daniel Nava.

Nine days later, Ryan Raburn saw 6 pitches, all between 97.5 and 100 mph from Herrera. The last pitch was belt high on the outer half of the plate and still has not been caught.

Then yesterday, Jordan Danks (yes, Jordan freaking Danks) saw 5 pitches: an assortment of two and four seam fastballs whistling in between 98 and 100 mph. Number five was as close to the middle of the strike zone as you can get. Game over.

The pitch velocities from 2012 to this season are roughly the same as is the pitch distribution. It does seem as though some of these home runs have come in at-bats where Herrera has refused to throw either the curve or his change-up, but overall he is actually using his off-speed stuff a tad more in 2013. What's the problem?

It's all about the location stupid and a little bit about bad luck (sometimes major league hitters do miss 99 mph fastballs down the middle), but is it time to be a little concerned? Are you content to wait for some regression to the norm? Or are you ready to shift roles a bit and use Herrera in a less critical role for a few weeks?

Pitcher wins and losses are a horrible stat, but reliever losses tell us a story and Kelvin Herrera has three of them. While Herrera is hardly the biggest problem on this team (scoring three runs or less in 16 of 28 games is problem one), I do wonder if swapping roles between Crow and Herrera for at least a few weeks might be in order.
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