Ruben Amaro Credits Analytics Department for Roberto Hernandez Signing
Recently, GM Ruben Amaro was on MLB Network Radio talking about the Phillies as they start spring training. Among other topics, Amaro discussed the team’s age and their starting pitching depth. In particular, he credited the team’s new analytics department for the signing of starter Roberto Hernandez.
The full quote can be read after the jump:
[It's] probably like the first foray into our analytics because we talked about it quite a bit. Our scouts like the arm and they’ve always kind of liked the arm. But some of the things that he brings to the table — while he gave up a lot of home runs last year — he’s still one of the best ground ball pitchers in the league. It’s important in our ballpark. I think now we have like, the number one and number two ground ball guys in the league as far as analytics are concerned. And so, we did need some depth and he’s a guy that was pretty cost-effective, we thought, with the dollars that we’re paying him. And to be able to add that kind of depth with a pitcher that has his kind of pedigree, hopefully this is a year that he can bounce back and pitch the way we think he can pitch. And, really, we’re asking him to be a fourth or fifth starter, and that’s really the role that he should be in right now.Ruben Amaro on MLB Network Radio on March 2, 2014
Back in December, after the Phillies signed Hernandez, Neil Weinberg analyzed the right-hander and the signing at Beyond the Box Score. Weinberg pointed out that xFIP likes him a lot more (and SIERA) than his ERA and FIP indicated in 2013:
- ERA: 4.89
- FIP: 4.63
- xFIP: 3.60
- SIERA: 3.59
Hernandez’s strikeout rate reached a career high 17.6 percent after ranging from 11 to 15 percent previously in his career. His walk rate was at 5.6 percent, the second-lowest rate of his career. He induced ground balls at a 53 percent clip, about five percent lower than his career average. All good signs.
What bothered Hernandez in 2013 was a slightly higher than normal BABIP (.308; career average .296) and a high home run rate, accounting for 21 percent of fly balls. The American League average HR/FB rate in 2013 was 11.2 percent and Hernandez’s career rate is 12.5 percent — it was more in line with the average prior to the season.
Just for fun, I looked at the 17 pitchers who posted a 13 percent or higher HR/FB in 2012, then looked at their rate last year.
|Name||Team||FB%||2012 HR/FB||2013 HR/FB||Notes|
|Henderson Alvarez||Blue Jays||24.30%||18.1%||2.6%|
|Joe Blanton||- – -||31.90%||15.5%||19.1%|
|Clayton Richard *||Padres||27.80%||15.0%||25.5%||25.5 innings|
|Jon Lester||Red Sox||28.80%||13.9%||8.3%|
|Ricky Romero *||Blue Jays||26.40%||13.8%||28.6%||7.1 innings|
|Tommy Hanson *||Braves||39.40%||13.5%||9.5%||73 innings|
|Jeremy Guthrie||- – -||36.60%||13.3%||12.1%|
|Clay Buchholz||Red Sox||32.90%||13.0%||4.5%|
* indicates the pitcher failed to log 100 innings.
The only starter to log more than 100 innings and see an increase in his HR/FB rate the next season was Joe Blanton. 10 of the 17 starters saw a decrease of at least three percent. Seven saw their rates drop by at least five percent. It’s a small sample from only one season, but it seems reasonable to expect Hernandez’s rate to drop.
Of course, moving from Tropicana Field where he was last season and Progressive Field where he had been previously in his career to Citizens Bank Park could affect his home run rate as well. 2013 home run park factors by handedness according to StatCorner:
- Progressive Field: 118 for left-handers / 83 for right-handers
- Tropicana Field: 91 / 87
- Citizens Bank Park: 141 / 120
Additionally, the change in defense can negatively impact Hernandez. The Rays were one of baseball’s best defenses last year, posting a 37.7 UZR, which ranked fourth out of all 30 teams according to FanGraphs. The Phillies were 29th at -65.9. A full season of Cody Asche as opposed to five months of Michael Young should help, as should the change from Delmon Young to Marlon Byrd in right. Any progression Domonic Brown and Ben Revere make in left and center field, respectively, are great. But the infield, which is most relevant to Hernandez, is relatively unchanged with the aged Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins.
As Amaro mentioned, however, Hernandez is only signed for one year at $4.5 million. In a vacuum, it’s certainly an overpay for someone who has been replacement level or worse over his career. At that price point, however, Hernandez would only have to be somewhere between replacement level and average to justify the money. That’s without factoring in the value he provides simply by being there, as the Phillies are thin on pitching depth.
If the Phillies made this move under Pat Gillick‘s leadership, or perhaps early in Amaro’s tenure, this signing likely would have been either largely ignored or viewed as a savvy buy-low signing. But since many of Amaro’s notable decisions have failed to bear fruit, few give him the benefit of the doubt on debatable signings. This is one case where he and the organization ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. The odds are Hernandez will be worse than the defense-independent stats indicate, but better than he has shown in recent years.