By: Chris Larson
Earlier this afternoon, the Chicago White Sox announced that they had signed free agent, right-handed reliever, Kelvin Herrera. The deal, as first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN, is a two-year, $18 million dollar contract that also includes a $10 million dollar option for a third year or a $1 million dollar buyout.
Regardless of the current state of the Chicago White Sox and their actual chances of being close to contention, this is a signing that has revolutionized the back end of the White Sox bullpen and put them in a position to have a legitimate name close out games. Herrera, who made his MLB debut in September 2011, spent 8 seasons with the Kansas City Royals, meaning that he is very familiar with the division and the interworking of how to get opposing team's hitters out.
Kelvin Herrera, who ended up later being dealt to the Washington Nationals in June of last year, is still in the midst of his peak - he just turned 29 last month. At 29 years of age, Herrera has already accomplished quite a bit over his big league career, including a World Series Championship with the Kansas City Royals in 2015, which helps to add even more substance to this signing. Herrera knows how to lead at the back end of the bullpen and has spent enough time in the big leagues to help groom some of the White Sox young relievers, who will be counted on heavily, moving forward as the team becomes more serious about being a contender.
Furthermore, over his big league career, Herrera owns a 2.82 ERA over 460.0 innings of work with a 8.9 strikeouts-per-9 ratio as well as a 3.26 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP). Overall, that equates to a RA9 (Runs Allowed Per 9 IP) value of 3.07 and career ERA+ of 1895. ERA+ is an important measurement because it essentially adjusts a pitcher's ERA to the ballpark they pitch in and is, sometimes seen as a more accurate value of how skilled a pitcher is, compared to purely looking at their ERA.
In addition, Kelvin Herrera has also been one of the most durable relievers in baseball, over the span of his 9-year big league career. Last August, when Herrera was a member of the Washington Nationals, was the first time he was placed on the disabled list with an injury. The injury was a left lisfranc tear, which sidelined Herrera for over a month and helped his ERA to ballon to 4.34, but the Chicago White Sox are likely comfortable with the medical reports on Herrera and feel as though he no longer is in danger of further injuring that muscle.
Still, considering the fact that Kelvin Herrera is a pitcher and made his first career DL stint last August, is a great sign as it could help signal that the White Sox will receive a tremendous amount of value over the next two, potentially three seasons, that Herrera is on their big league roster. Obviously, as Herrera continues to climb in age, the risk of him injuring himself grows, but that doesn't necessarily mean that this could be a deal that hamstrings the White Sox bullpen. After all, if Herrera ends up exercising his third-year option with the team, he would be 32 when he hit free agency and would be nearing the end of his peak, not putting any sort of damper on the future outlook of the White Sox.
Switching back to looking at Herrera's most recent body of work, over the 2018 regular season, Herrera finished the season with a opponent Batting Average Against versus lefties of .230 and righties .268. In addition, Herrera finished the year with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 15.2% and a 92.1 left on-base percentage, two indicators that Herrera can be used in critical late-inning game situations and figure out a way to strike out the opposing teams hitters and strand runners on base.
In the bigger picture, Kelvin Herrera is a great pickup for the Chicago White Sox, who remain in the hunt for this winter's two biggest free agents, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Prior to this signing, the White Sox were projected to have Alex Colome, as their closer, which would have left righties, Nate Jones and Juan Minaya, along with lefty Jace Fry, in the mix for the 7th and 8th innings. Now, with Herrera in tow, the White Sox have deepened the back end of their pen and allowed for Alex Colome to move into an 8th inning/backup closer role, in the rare event that Kelvin Herrera ends up having to miss time or needs a break.
Still, based on Kelvin Herrera's track record, his ability to strand runners on base during late inning situations, and his familiarity with the American League Central, the White Sox very well might have gotten a steal of a deal with this signing and it could be one that pays off huge dividends for the team. After all, the White Sox are a team that is still trying to find their way to contention and by adding a veteran presence at the back of the pen in Herrera, Chicago is one step closer towards that goal now than they were prior to today.