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Kelvin Herrera is a perfectly fine closer, he’s just not Wade Davis

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Royals fans have been spoiled.

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Kelvin Herrera allowed a two-run home run Kennys Vargas in the ninth inning on Friday to blow a 3-1 lead, a game the Twins would eventually win 4-3. It was the third consecutive game in which Herrera had allowed a run and it was his second blown save of the year. Through 19 innings, his ERA stands at a rather high 4.26 for the year. Fans are already calling for him to lose his closer's job.

Meanwhile, former Royals relievers Greg Holland and Wade Davis are flourishing with their new clubs. Holland was named National League Reliever of the Month of April and has converted all nineteen of his save opportunities to lead the league in saves. Wade Davis has yet to allow an earned run this year for the Cubs, converting all nine of his save opportunities.

So does that mean Kelvin Herrera is the worst closer a team could have? No. He's just not Wade Davis or Greg Holland.

Royals fans, welcome to the wonderful world of....the rest of baseball. The Royals have had the luxury of having not one, but two of the best relief pitchers in the entire world.. Greg Holland and Wade Davis were death to opposing hitters in late innings. The trademark of the Royals was that if the opponent was trailing by the 7th inning, it was lights out. Automatic. Almost without fail.

But almost no one else in baseball has that luxury. And the Royals are finding out how to navigate a world without an automatic cyborg closer. From 2014 through 2017, there have been 58 relievers who have saved at least 20 games or more. Here is where Herrera, Davis, and Holland rank among those 58 pitchers.

ERA FIP SV% K/9 HR/9 OPS WAR
Kelvin Herrera 14th 23rd 58th 35th 16th 9th 8th
Wade Davis 1st 4th 13th 14th 1st 1st 1st
Greg Holland 8th 7th 2nd 11th 4th 18th 20th

Holland's WAR, as computed by Baseball-Reference, is understandably low since he missed an entire season and WAR is a counting stat. Meanwhile, Kelvin Herrera has been one of the most valuable late inning relievers in baseball over the last few years, well above average in many of these categories. Now you may look at "save percentage", the rate of save opportunities converted, and say "ah, Kelvin Herrera does not have the killer instinct in the ninth that Greg Holland had." But the "blown save" stat includes any three-run lead or less that a reliever gives up. So Herrera's numbers are skewed by his time as a seventh inning middle reliever, when he got dinged for the few times he gave up a lead, but never got to collect a save.

So if you look at when Kelvin Herrera was officially in the closer's role - parts of the 2016 season when Wade Davis was out, and this season - he has converted 21 of 24 save opportunities, 87.5%. That is still below Greg Holland (93.3%) and Wade Davis (94.6% if you take out his blown saves as a middle reliever), but ahead of All-Star closers like David Robertson (85.1%), Glen Perkins (85.7), Jeurys Familia (86.4%), and Fernando Rodney (86.8). Heck, it's just a hair behind what Joakim Soria did in his prime with the Royals from 2008-2011 - 89.9%. The difference between Herrera's save conversion rate and Wade Davis's is that once out of 20 games, Herrera will blow one that Wade Davis wouldn't. That is not a huge difference.

Kelvin Herrera's greatest sin seems to be that he's not perfect. He's not Wade Davis. Well, pretty much no one is. But he is still a perfectly adequate closer who will have ups and downs, shutdown innings, and blown saves. The Royals have had a formula of success with a dominant bullpen, but that ingredient is now gone, replaced by a simply average closer and some shaky setup men. They will need to find a different formula for success fast, or it may not even matter how many games Kelvin Herrera blows.