Kelvin Herrera’s velocity might never get to what it was, but its slow climb hasn’t yet stopped. After working 92-94 mph during a lot of March as he worked his way back from a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot, Herrera sat at 95-96 against his former team on Tuesday. That’s still 1-2 mph short of his Royals peak, but he still stands a shot at getting there. He’s 29 years old, which is past-peak for most players, but not necessarily in terms of velocity.
Should 95-96 be his new reality, it appears he’s found a way to adapt.
Get a load of this thing:
That’s his cutter, and it appears to be new to him, depending on who you ask. If you consult Brooks Baseball, he dabbled with one a couple years ago, throwing it a little less than 10 percent of the time with Kansas City in 2017. Statcast says he hadn’t thrown a cutter until this year, regarding the KC pitch as a harder slider.
Even if it’s not completely novel, its space in Herrera’s repertoire could be. The 91-93 mph cutter showed up sparingly for a couple months in 2017, but not before or after, at least until this year. Brooks counted a peak of 22 cutters in July 2017, but he’s already thrown 21 during a half-month with the White Sox.
Alex Gordon’s reaction suggests it’s not a prominent part of the scouting report:
The cutter used to be a Don Cooper quick-fix, but it’s lost some of its luster as the White Sox’ postseason drought drags on. Of the guys who didn’t bring one into the organization, a cutter helped Jace Fry have a great 2018, but Carson Fulmer’s hasn’t served him well, and Jeff Samardzija’s seemed counterproductive as well.
Right now, it seems to be working for Herrera as he builds back up toward his old velocity. When everything’s right, it pairs well with his four-seam fastball that runs the other way. After letting Merrifield look at a couple cutters away, he tied him up with this heat upstairs for strike three:
That said, he tried to do the same thing with Gordon after that cutter. It was letter-high and 97 mph, but it split the plate, and Gordon came up a few feet shy of a homer to left center.
We’ll see if Herrera ditches it if and when he gets all the way back to his old fastball reliance. He’s only throwing straight heat 48 percent of the time, with the cutter picking up the 20 percent he’s missing from his peak. That number figures to climb if the last two outings are any indication. Brooks counted 11 cutters of his last 23 pitches.
It very well could be here to stay due to environmental factors. There’s the idea that he might need a new wrinkle, and there’s the presence of Cooper, sure. Also, he’s spending a lot of time around Alex Colomé, who has based his entire career around that pitch. James Fegan talked to him about it last week:
‘My cutter moves both ways,’ Colomé said through team interpreter Billy Russo. ‘It can be to the side or it can sink down. I like to throw it to get it to sink down because that’s going to help me get more groundballs but I can throw it to have both movement, side and down.’
Some pitch classification systems regard the early versions of the pitch as a slider, but Colomé says he has never thrown one. The 30-year-old groundball artist throws a cutter taught to him by recently retired, former Rays minor league pitching coordinator Dick Bosman, who also taught James Shields and Wade Davis that weird little leg dip they did when they checked the runner at first.
Colomé has thrown that cutter about 60 percent of the time since he incorporated it into his repertoire, which is extreme, especially since Colomé’s other pitch is a fastball. Even if Herrera discards his slider for the cutter, he also has a changeup to go to.
If the Sox get the version of Herrera they thought signed a significant reliever contract, the cutter will probably stay a side dish in his approach, rather than the main course. But should Herrera’s battle against time already be underway, the variety gives him a better shot at being well worth that $18 million, whether it’s for the Sox or another team after the deadline.