After emerging as one of the most dominant setup men in baseball last year, right-hander Kelvin Herrera was sent to Triple-A Omaha by the Royals on Thursday. He has surrendered eight homers in 20 1/3 big-league innings this year.
Herrera, 23, had the second-highest average fastball velocity (97.4 mph) in baseball last year according to PitchFX (min. 50 IP), trailing only Aroldis Chapman (98.0). He posted a 2.35 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 77 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings as Greg Holland's primary setup man last season.
Even though he's still averaging a healthy 97.1 mph with the fastball, Herrera has pitched to a 4.87 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with 24 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings this season. As Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com pointed out, all eight of those homers came on fastballs. Herrera surrendered only four long balls in 2012.
Herrera's homer issues needed to be addressed, but they were a relatively minor problem for the Royals overall. They went into Wednesday with the fewest homers (27), third-lowest SLG (.386) and third-fewest runs scored (184) in the AL. The pitching staff has been solid (3.59 ERA, third best in the AL), but the offense has been a letdown. Here are the primary culprits:
- Second Base: .257/.291/.347 (80 OPS+)
- Third Base: .190/.253/.329 (56 OPS+)
- Right Field: .259/.302/.364 (78 OPS+)
The blame falls on Chris Getz, Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur, respectively. The offensive bar for the middle infield is relatively low, but the corner spots are expected to provide above-average production at the plate. The Royals are getting little from two of the four corners at the moment.
Kansas City didn't spend big -- in terms of dollars and prospects -- to acquire James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie last winter only to be 21-22 in late May. They're only three games back of the Tigers and Indians for the AL Central lead, and the easiest way to make up ground is to find upgrades at third base and right field. Herrera was part of the problem, but he was far from the biggest one.