Washington Nationals: Why has Kelvin Herrera struggled since arriving?

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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Kelvin Herrera #40 of the Washington Nationals walks off the mound in the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park on June 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Kelvin Herrera #40 of the Washington Nationals walks off the mound in the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park on June 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals got Kelvin Herrera to try and create the most lethal eighth and ninth inning combos in the game. But it hasn’t worked out just yet.

When the Washington Nationals traded for then Kansas City Royals closer Kelvin Herrera, expectations were sky high. He was having yet another excellent year in KC, but it seems the wheels have fallen off since then. He needs to improve, and quickly.

Before the trade, Herrera had compiled a 1.05 ERA and had converted 14 of 16 save opportunities in 2018. But since being acquired by the Nationals in what seemed a typical shrewd Mike Rizzo move, it’s been a completely different story.

The right-handed flamethrower has a 4.22 ERA, allowing runs in four of his eleven appearances. On top of that, he’s had to fight out of jams too, with just four clean innings with the Nationals, so it could’ve been a lot worse.

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Herrera also has a FIP of 6.89 since joining the Nats, which has largely come from being prone to the long ball since the move to Washington. He’s allowed three long balls in just 10.2 innings, after surrendering just two in 25.2 with the Royals this season.

The home runs have been something trending in the wrong direction with Herrera for a while now. 2014 was probably his best year, where he didn’t allow a single homer in 70 innings. But since then, it’s been a steady increase in ball clearing the fence.

The right-handed reliever seems to be gradually leaving more and more balls over the plate, right in any hitters’ wheelhouse.

Back in 2014, you can see via his FanGraphs heatmap, he was consistently jamming hitters up and in. This led to him inducing soft contact 27.4 percent of the time that season.

But since the start of 2017, you can see on the heatmap from FanGraphs this time that it’s a large radius over the middle. Because of this, the soft contact percent has plummeted to 17.4 meaning more base hits, and inevitably, home runs.

His heatmap since joining the Nationals is even worse, with almost everything in a hitter’s happy zone. To get back to his old self, he’s going to have to get back to what worked best for him before; jamming hitter up and in.

Now, that’s far easier said than done to be able to just instantly fix command of a pitcher’s pitches. Nothing obvious shows up comparing his mechanics from 2014 to now, which is usually to blame for these types of command issues.

Hopefully, he can work with Derek Lilliquist to fix whatever may be slightly off for him. Then he should be able to return to the guy Rizzo thought he was getting when he gave up a nice collection of prospects.

Next: DoD Staff Mid-season Review

Kelvin Herrera was supposed to be a lockdown addition to the Washington Nationals bullpen. The early returns aren’t good, but if he can fix his location issues, he should be able to rebound and be the dominant arm we expected.

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