Technically, I suppose you could call it a No. 1 and No. 1A situation as far as the ninth inning goes for the Kansas City Royals: Greg Holland, the incumbent, is the manager’s primary (and preferred) option, while Kelvin Herrera is his backup.
At this rate, however, it won’t be long before the No. 1A guy ends up with sole possession of the job.
There’s perhaps no job in MLB more unstable than those of relievers, especially those of the late inning variety, and it’s the one position in which small sample sizes count a whole lot each season since we’re really only dealing with 5o-70 innings here.
Right now, those sample sizes say that Herrera is dominating. He’s made five appearances for the Royals thus far, and has struck out an incredible 10 batters over 4.1 innings, including his latest one-inning gem of a save against the Minnesota Twins in which the 23-year-old struck out the side, getting his first two outs via his fastball, and then catching Josh Willingham looking at a changeup around a two-out double.
The right hander has now struck out multiple batters in four out of five outings — the lone outlier being April 7, when he was called on to bail out Holland to get one out … and got it with a K. Not only does his early-season 20.77 K/9 look as ridiculous as his fastball does to opposing batters right now, but Herrera also leads the league’s relievers with a -0.79 FIP.
Yes, that’s a negative number, which should tell you about a little something about his effectiveness right now.
That’s a significant contrast to the struggling (but otherwise excellent) Holland, who is no stranger to slow starts (11.37/2.68 ERA/WHIP over 6.1 April innings in 2012), and is coming off a 27-pitch labored save in which he loaded the bases by allowing a hit between two free passes.
Small sample size? You bet. But that’s something that comes with the territory of this job, and the Royals would not be doing the wrong thing here by putting in the dominant arm in high-leverage, game-deciding situations.
Until proven otherwise, that arm is Herrera.