Designated HitterOctober 26, 2006
The Ballad of Danny Ray Herrera
By Kent Bonham

And so it begins.

On Monday, Baseball America published its 2006 Minor League Position Rankings, ushering in Prospect Lists Season around the web. Like the first bus loading senior citizens for a foliage tour through the Champlain Valley, or a group of coeds dressing up like naughty nurses for a fraternity Halloween party, it's a certain sign that fall is now officially upon us. And while most of the ensuing focus and discussion will rightly fall on the prospects who make such lists, I'd like to turn your attention to one player who almost surely will not.

Daniel Ray Herrera was drafted out of the University of New Mexico by the Texas Rangers in the 45th round (Pick #1345) of this year's draft. He grew up in Odessa, TX and attended Permian High, the school made famous by "Friday Night Lights." (Unfortunately for Herrera, he didn't attend at the same time as Minka Kelly). Wait a second. Where was I now? Ah, yes. . .

Herrera stands a wee 5'7", so he won't be selling any jeans. And a fastball that tops out at 86 MPH won't cause radar guns to make sweet love to him. But something happened to Herrera's game during his final college season, when all he did was get guys out:

YEAR    CL       IP     ERA    BB    SO    BAA
2004    FR     72.67   5.33    24    51   .308
2005    SO     93.00   6.20    33    67   .310
2006    JR    128.33   2.24    29   104   .238

As impressive as that junior year appears to the naked eye, it's worth analyzing in even greater detail.

Consider the following:

Herrera pitched in the college equivalent of (a pre-2006) Coors Field, with a three-year Park Factor of 159 (which means his home field has yielded an average of 59% more runs than a neutral park over the past three seasons). Last season, he pitched in stadiums with a Total Park Factor of 139.6. Yet, his ERA over 128 IP was 2.24, the third-lowest of all draft-eligible college pitchers last year with more than 100 innings pitched.

Moving to the world of Defense-Independent Pitching Stats, Herrera's DIPS ERA creeps up to 3.28, a general function of the relatively large number of hits he allowed in the thin mountain air. But still. Adjusting his DIPS ERA for the full effects of the level of competition against whom he pitched and the parks in which he threw, dropped his fully-adjusted ERA back down to 2.20.

But that's not all.

Prior to June's draft, scouts most often cited five players as the most pronounced college groundball pitchers. With this in mind, I went back before the draft and hand-calculated the Ground Outs/Air Outs (not all batted ball data is publicly-available at the college level) for each, to see how Herrera compared:

Danny Ray Herrera (LHP, New Mexico)    2.86
Derrick Lutz (RHP, George Washington)  2.23
Jason Godin (RHP, Old Dominion)        1.95
Brett Sinkbeil (RHP, Missouri State)   1.86
Jared Hughes (RHP, Long Beach State)   1.60
Dallas Buck (RHP, Oregon State)        N/A

Fine, you're probably saying. Big deal. The kid had one good year in college. He induced a lot of ground balls, threw strikes, and got a reasonable number of whiffs while pitching in a hitter-friendly ballpark. But he's short and doesn't throw especially hard, remember? Surely, the minor leagues would have exposed him for what he really is, right?

Let's take a look.

After breezing through the AZL for nine innings, Herrera got the call up to the Class A-Advanced Bakersfield Blaze of the California League and headed to the bullpen. Over the course of 54.3 IP, here's how he fared:

                       Herrera        Lg. Avg.	
OPS Against             .518            .764
BABIP                   .293            .333
WHIP                    0.94            1.47
BB/9                    1.99            3.58
K/9                    10.10            7.62
HR/9                    0.00            0.81
GB%                     70.7%           45.7%

In other words, Herrera once again disproved the doubters.

Now, none of this is to say that Herrera is certain to maintain these levels of performance as he continues his march towards the major leagues. As with the majority of prospects at his age and level of development, the odds are most certainly against him.

But here's to hoping that next season we might all begin to recognize him for the things he has already accomplished, rather than continually dismissing him for the things he might someday not.

THANKS: Boyd Nation's site is an incredible resource for all things college baseball. His passion for the Land of Aluminum Bats is obvious. Jeff Sackmann revolutionized the way the general public, even hacks like me, could analyze the minor leagues. If Bill James and Jessica Alba ever bore a child, and their child came out as a minor league baseball website, it would probably look something like

Kent Bonham is a consultant in Washington, DC. He can be reached here.


Herrera was a good pick by the Rangers. When it comes to picks that low, you simply can't lose any which way. I'm surprised he didn't go modestly higher - you look at guys taken in the 20th round, many of them provide scant better or even less upside, or were not even drafted with a real chance of signing.

Haha! You should have seen the look on my face when I saw the title of this topic and the author this morning. Way to keep me in the dark.

A great read Kent, glad your mission to tell the world about DRH has taken a giant leap forward!

As a former New Mexico resident (nice place), I can tell you that pitching against metal bats in mile-high Albuquerque makes Coors Field look like the dead ball era by comparison. Lobos (University of New Mexico) baseball scores like 16-13 are common.

With all the grounders, it sounds like Herrera discovered a nasty sinker. Here's hoping he overcomes the prejudice against short pitchers. Is Herrera a lefty or righty? Great article.

He's a lefty, and someone told me his best pitch is a screwball.

"Is Herrera a lefty or righty?"

He's a lefty. And I'm an idiot for leaving that out.

From what I've heard, DRH throws a screwball.


- Kent

This is only marginally on-topic and I haven't looked into it much, but is there any significant study analyzing the difference of wood vs. aluminum bats regarding Ground Outs/Air Outs? I don't see any reason that there would be, but I just thought I'd ask.

If Bill James and Jessica Alba ever bore a child

...Aaron Gleeman would be mighty annoyed.

Herrera's story reminds me of Jamie Vermilyea, a righty with a high GB/FB ratio out of UNM, who blew through the NYPL and did well in FSL. He's been inconsistent in the high minors. He's not yet 25, so he may yet get a shot somewhere.

To pile on, Herrera's best pitch is a change with screwball like tendencies. He reminds me a little bit of both Vermilyea (who threw harder, though Herrera was signifcantly more successful at the college level than Jamie was - which is saying something) and Jeff Kubenka (an unheralded screwballer who tore threw the minors ... initially).
As arguably the most successful pitcher in the NCAA this year, he really should have been picked higher than he was, stuff and size be damned.

If I remember correctly, Oil Can Boyd was quite slight in stature. If you know how to get people out, its always worth a look. Granted the big, flame throwing kid, has the tools, but knowing how to pitch is an underated commodity. Pitchers like Jamie Moyer were effective basically using smoke and mirrors. Besides a good scewgie hasn't been witnessed in MLB since Valenzuela was doing his thing for the Dodgers(yes, I am showing my age)