Luis Herrera is the very picture of a successful major league pitcher. He is a Cy Young winner and a 2-time All-Star. He is a 20-game winner. He has won 6 post season games and holds the Capra record for most wins by a pitcher from Panama with 146. (San Jose reliever Tomas Ramirez is second with 27). He has the adulation of his Panamanian countrymen and close to $70M in career earnings. Fellow Panamanian and Anaheim third baseman Al Cedeno says:
"In the last few years, Luis Herrera has become to Panama what Dennis Martinez is to Nicaragua. More than a legend, he is an idol. Men are afraid to name their children Luis for fear of the crushing expectations that will be placed upon them."
Life is good for Luis Herrera, but it hasn't always been like that.
Luis Herrera was signed by the Montreal Royales as an International Free Agent from Colon, Panama for $6.3M in Season 2. With very good control and two offerings that projected to be "plus pitches", a 4-seam fastball that sat in the low 90s and a classic 12-to-6 hammer curveball, Herrera was immediately viewed as a potential major league contributor.
Herrera was only 19 years old when he was aggressively moved to AA for his first full season. He enjoyed considerable success at first, posting a 3.20 ERA in 29 starts, but he regressed each of the three years he spent in AA and failed to develop his changeup into a consistent third pitch. Speculation that he was having issues with alcohol and massage therapists ran rampant and he lost the majority of his signing bonus in a Singing Livestock scam. Everything was spiraling out of control.
He hit a career and personal low in season 6 when he was moved to AAA, made 30 starts and went 4-19 with a 5.51 ERA. Stamina issues continued to dog him as he was rarely capable of making it past the 5th inning. He was considering accepting an offer from the Panamanian National Baseball Team to serve as a pitching instructor when salvation came in the form of a late season promotion to the Montreal bullpen.
Freed from distractions, he held his own there, posting a 4.24 ERA, striking out 14 in 17 innings, and earning a World Series ring. He built upon his success as a long reliever in Season 7, going 13-3, posting a 3.82 ERA in 67 appearances, and gaining considerable support for Rookie of the Year.
During the next 5 years in Montreal he bounced from bullpen to rotation, making 66 starts over that time, but never having any sustained success. Frustrated with his role in Montreal, he filed for free agency after Season 12 and was signed to a 5 year, $37.5 million contract by San Juan.
His first year in San Juan was disasterous as he posted a 5.85 ERA in 67 appearances in the bullpen. In Season 14, as a 30 year old, he finally got his first major league opportunity to serve exclusively as a starter. Seizing control of this opportunity - probably his last chance - he did not disappoint, putting up a respectable 10-11 record with a 3.64 ERA.
San Juan, however, was about to begin a significant rebuilding period. Perhaps attempting to trade Herrera at the peak of his value and doubtlessly happy to move the last three years of his contract, the Express shipped Herrera to the Spiders for former first round draft pick Al Lopez. Lopez posted four straight 20 homer seasons in the majors and was a Season 16 All-Star, but Herrera got his revenge by turning into one of the best pitchers in the majors.
In four seasons in Cleveland, Herrera has posted a record of 75-21 with a 3.14 ERA. He won the S15 Cy Young award by going 20-8 with a 2.67 ERA and shed nagging questions about his durability by surpassing the 200 inning threshold for the first time in his career.
After a sparkling Season 17 campaign where he went 17-4, he was rewarded with a four year, $30M contract extension. An integral part of the franchise, Luis Herrera's belief in himself and his ability to succeed as a starting pitcher have paid off.
His greatest regret is his poor performance as the starter in Game 7 of the S17 World Series and he looks to cap his career with the one thing he lacks: a World Series ring. His thoughts:
"Todo lo que necesito es un anillo de Serie Mundial para demostrar a estos cerdos yanqui que todo lo que Dios me hizo para ser un ganador y campeón."
Good luck Luis Herrera, you've earned it.