Judging the Royals

How Kelvin Herrera is getting beat on secondary pitches

Royals closer Kelvin Herrera talks about throwing his slider

Kansas City Royals pitcher Kelvin Herrera talks about throwing his slider this year.
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Kansas City Royals pitcher Kelvin Herrera talks about throwing his slider this year.

Friday night Royals closer Kelvin Herrera blew a save against the Minnesota Twins when he threw a changeup to Kennys Vargas and Vargas homered.

The last time Herrera blew a save was against the Houston Astros on April 9, when he threw a slider to Jake Marisnick and Marisnick homered.

Herrera’s only loss came on May 6 against the Indians when he threw a changeup to Francisco Lindor and Lindor homered.

Back to April 13 against the Oakland A’s; on the eighth pitch of a ninth inning at bat, Herrera threw a slider to Rajai Davis and Davis homered.

If you haven’t picked up the pattern yet, here it is: Herrera – who has one of the best fastballs in baseball – is getting beat on his secondary pitches.

Herrera has given up five home runs this season and only one came on a fastball; probably because it was a 2-0 fastball that Carlos Santana was looking for.

To be fair, a pitcher can’t just throw fastball after fastball; no matter how hard a pitcher throws, big league hitters will time those fastballs if they see enough of them. And once a reliever gets in the game, he doesn’t have much time to figure out which pitches are working.

But if a pitcher is struggling with a secondary pitch, the catcher can call for it when the pitcher doesn’t have to throw a strike; the pitcher can bounce it in the dirt to get a feel for it.

Either that or the catcher needs to junk the pitch for that night and move on.

Salvador Perez’ pitch calling

Friday night Herrera started the ninth inning with a punchout of Jorge Polanco and, according to MLB’s Gameday, Herrera threw two changeups to Polanco; neither changeup was ideal.

They were thrown in a two-strike count and even though Herrera got a swing-and-miss on the second one, both changeups were higher in the zone than they should have been.

So even though Herrera had already shown he was having trouble getting his changeup down, Perez called for another one and Vargas hit it out of the park.

At times it seems as if Salvador Perez is not paying attention to which pitches are working that night and will continue to call a pitch that’s inconsistent. At other times it seems like Perez ignores the game situation or isn’t prepared for a particular hitter.

In 2016 Kennys Vargas was hitless on pitches middle up or up and in; in 2017 Vargas is once again hitless on those pitches. So if you have a pitcher on the mound with a high-nineties fastball, you’d think heaters up and in would be a good way to go.

Instead Perez called for a changeup down and away and it stayed up; right into the middle-away zone which is a zone Vargas crushes.

Now go back to that Marisnick home run in Houston:

In 2015 Marisnick slugged .500 on sliders and hit .313 on pitches that were middle-down.

In 2016 Marisnick slugged .486 on sliders and hit .486 on pitches that were middle-down.

In 2017 Marisnick has slugged .692 on sliders and hit .400 on pitches that were middle-down.

The high slugging percentage on sliders is understandable; Marisnick is right-handed and a slider’s speed allows him to pull the ball into the short left-field porch in Houston.

So if you have a one-run lead going into the ninth inning, you’re playing in Houston and Jake Marisnick comes to the plate, you want to avoid sliders (because a bad one allows Marisnick to pull the ball into the short part of the park) and you want to avoid middle-down because that’s a Marisnick hot zone.

But Salvador Perez called for a slider, middle-down; Marisnick homered, tied the game and the Royals lost in extra innings.

Salvador Perez is a physically gifted catcher and might throw better than anyone in the game. But even though he’s been in the big leagues since 2011 and has won four Gold Gloves, he still makes some fundamental mistakes when he’s calling pitches.

But the pitcher is the one with the ball in his hand

If Perez calls some bad pitches, why do pitchers throw them?

The more veteran pitchers with a better idea of what works might refuse; that’s why we saw Johnny Cueto shaking off Perez on a regular basis.

Other pitchers don’t want to think; they want the catcher to call the game which allows the pitcher to concentrate on pitch execution.

But Salvador Perez does not have a blown save on his record this morning; Kelvin Herrera does.

It’s mentally tiring if a pitcher has to ask himself if he’s about to throw the wrong pitch, but if his catcher is putting him in a bad spot by calling pitches that can get him beat, the pitcher needs to shake off the sign and throw something else.

Because the Royals can’t afford much more of this.