Between Greg Holland and Wade Davis, there has been a lot to celebrate about the Royals bullpen this year. Even as we continue to wonder about Aaron Crow's decreased velocity, or what, exactly, is a Francisley Bueno, and why do we have to have one in the bullpen, Holland and Davis have provided more than enough success to go around.
Tim Collins has been on a downward spiral, and there's probably a good reason for that:
Probably worth mentioning that the more generic Collins' windup/stretch motion has gotten over the years, the worse his command has been.— Joshua Ward (@JoshuaKWard) April 6, 2014
Collins K and BB rates, as his delivery has been normalized: 2012: 12.01, 4.39 2013: 8.78, 4.73 2014: 0.00, 36.00 (1 IP, 2 Apperances)— Joshua Ward (@JoshuaKWard) April 6, 2014
In Collins defense, his K/9 rate now in 18 appearances is 5.19, and his BB/9 rate is only exactly the same at 5.19. He also had an injury this season, so there's that. He's probably pitching with a UCL strain that will require Tommy John surgery later this year or during the off-season. But hey. Gotta have some lefties, ineffectual as they may be.
But those are some nitpicky things, and this article isn't about them. At least, it's not supposed to be. Which kind of gets to my point, in an oddly circuitous way, because we seem to be forgetting how good Kelvin Herrera has been for this team.
On any other roster, save for, say, Cincinnati, or Atlanta, maybe Los Angeles, maaaaybe Milwaukee if you believe in the resurgence of Francisco Rodriguez, you'd be hard pressed to find a guy more suited to be a team's closer than Kelvin Herrera. The biggest problem for him is that he plays for the Royals, which has typically been a problem for a lot of players. Juan Gonzalez comes to mind.
What makes Herrera's situation unique is that he is not hoping to escape a generally tedious runabout of a baseball season with a team whose hopes of success hinge upon such idle and abstract concepts as Grit and Makeup and Best Shape of Your Life and Looks Like A Ballplayer. No, he finds himself in the unique position of simply being overshadowed by players who are better than him, which is pretty interesting considering how good Herrera has been.
This season, he isn't striking out as many people. His K/9 right now sits at a Guthrian 6.97, which is actually a compliment to Jeremy Guthrie's career rate of 5.34. Vargasian didn't have the same ring to it. Which is to say he isn't striking out a ludicrous number of people, but he's still generating swings and misses (12.5% this year, 12.3% for his career), and his Z-Contact% (79.9) is actually better this year than it was in his sterling 2012 (84.5). It's not this his stuff has declined, batters are just swinging earlier, and more often, particularly when he comes into the zone. Hitters are swinging more than 75% of the time when Herrera throws it over the plate, compared to a career mark of 69.9%.
He's only given up one home run since May 22nd. Of last year. And that happened on July 26th of last year, in a 5-1 win at U.S Cellular Field in Chicago. Since then, he has pitched 56 innings of baseball without a home run given up. Is part of that luck? Sure, in the same sense that Joe Dimaggio's hit streak was lucky, or Orel Hershiser's scoreless inning streak was lucky. Hyperbole on my part? Absolutely, but 56 innings of not giving up a home run has at least as much to do with skill as it does with luck.
Since 2012, nineteen relief pitchers have amassed three Wins Above Replacement or more. There's the usual suspects (Holland, Chapman, Kimbrel, Uehara...Rodney), and a handful of guys you'd recognize if you heard their names (Glen Perkins, Steve Cishek, Sean Doolittle), and then there's Kelvin Herrera. Despite a somewhat disastrous beginning to the 2013 season, in which he found himself with a 5.20 ERA through the first half of the season, Herrera managed to come back in the second half last season and finish the year with a 2.64 ERA over his final thirty innings with forty-one strikeouts and just six walks. He turned a -0.5 fWAR into a 0.6.
No one is arguing that Herrera is better than Holland. Well, not anymore, anyway. And he certainly isn't doing better than Davis. But he's still the next best reliever on the team. Maybe that doesn't carry much weight on most rosters, but when you are third out of the gate after Davis (4th in WAR among relievers this season) and Holland (6th, sandwiched around Joakim Soria*, oddly enough), you probably shouldn't be getting questioned as to why you are being put into a game when your number is called, a lingering synaptic response related to his struggles early last year.
*I understand why they didn't sign Soria, or more appropriately, why Soria didn't re-sign after the Royals declined his option, but what an historically ridiculous bullpen that could have been this year. Soria seems to have recovered a season removed from his second Tommy John surgery/rehab, posting 12.24 K/9, 1.08 BB/9, and a 1.80/0.74/1.88 slash. Also hasn't given up a home run this year in twenty-five innings.
So, let's take a moment and recognize how good Kelvin Herrera has been. Because relievers are fungible commodities, but as of today, the Royals have three of the game's top 20 arms out of the bullpen. Even if Herrera is third best on the team, he's still deserving of a little bit of recognition.
Viva La Herrera.