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
Ervin Santana Angels 37.30% 18.9% 12.4%
Henderson Alvarez Blue Jays 24.30% 18.1% 2.6%
Mike Leake Reds 26.60% 16.7% 11.5%
Ivan Nova Yankees 32.40% 16.6% 8.4%
Derek Holland Rangers 40.40% 15.6% 8.8%
Joe Blanton - – - 31.90% 15.5% 19.1%
Clayton Richard * Padres 27.80% 15.0% 25.5% 25.5 innings
Yovani Gallardo Brewers 31.50% 14.9% 11.9%
Tim Lincecum Giants 30.30% 14.6% 12.1%
Jon Lester Red Sox 28.80% 13.9% 8.3%
Ricky Romero * Blue Jays 26.40% 13.8% 28.6% 7.1 innings
Luke Hochevar Royals 35.00% 13.5% 11.0%
Tommy Hanson * Braves 39.40% 13.5% 9.5% 73 innings
James Shields Rays 29.00% 13.4% 8.6%
Jeremy Guthrie - – - 36.60% 13.3% 12.1%
Hiroki Kuroda Yankees 29.50% 13.0% 10.3%
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.

Leave a Reply

*

12 comments

  1. Dante

    March 05, 2014 09:31 AM

    One man does not a department make.

    • Josh G

      March 05, 2014 11:19 AM

      But one man does make a good whipping boy.

      I’m afraid we’ll get “See, this guy didn’t work out therefor analytics = useless”

  2. Phillie697

    March 05, 2014 11:05 AM

    As MB pointed out in his Friday bag, RAJ hasn’t really done anything worth boiling over about. Yeah that whole Douchbag Young brothers combo last year was worthy of ridicule, but it really didn’t hurt the team long-term the way his other deals have in the past; sure it made 2013 even worse, but it’s not like we were in line to win anything anyway. This year, he’s done even less things that are worthy of contempt; I didn’t even mind the Byrd signing all that much. My only real gripe is actually MAG, which I voiced when the deal was done during the season last season. I think I was one of the few who said, hold your horses, let’s not pencil MAG into the starting rotation just yet, and lo and behold, I was right.

    RAJ doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. But he also hasn’t done much lately to be truly upset over. The real issue isn’t whether we should question every one of his moves from here until the end of eternity. The real issue is whether this is the guy we want to continue making decisions for us, good or bad. What’s the point of sticking with someone who you don’t have confidence in rebuilding this team?

    • Mike Lacy

      March 05, 2014 12:34 PM

      You’re assuming the ownership shares your lack of confidence.

      • Phillie697

        March 05, 2014 12:46 PM

        Last time I checked, this blog isn’t about “what the ownership will do,” but more about “what the Phillies as an organization should do.” I could be wrong though. If it’s the former, then I guess 99% of the articles here are fairly useless.

    • Pencilfish

      March 05, 2014 02:07 PM

      The Phillies management and ownership don’t share your view and therefore are not yet in “rebuilding” mode. Once that happens, I agree RAJ is the not the guy to lead a rebuilding effort. Since RAJ already shepherded the team through a new TV contract, and his own contract ends after the 2015 season, it would seem a natural time to find a new GM in 2015 if a rebuilding effort gathers steam. Reports (or absence of) contract negotiations by late Fall 2014 will provide some clues to what ownership thinks of RAJ.

  3. derekcarstairs

    March 05, 2014 11:18 AM

    “Ruben Amaro Credits Analytics Department for Roberto Hernandez Signing”.

    Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

  4. Mark66

    March 05, 2014 05:39 PM

    A major, major mistake taking Gonzalez and not getting Tanaka

  5. ballerstatus

    March 05, 2014 08:11 PM

    I like it. Like the man says it shows a step in the right direction. Since it seems like were stuck with RAJ, at least maybe he had his eyes opened the last few years and has learned from that experience and (crossing fingers) is going to trend in the right direction to a more than capable GM.

  6. steveinphilly

    March 07, 2014 02:04 PM

    And then Ruben went back on MLB Radio the next day and said, “Uh, never mind. Wrong Roberto Hernandez. See, we didn’t get our analytics guy an internet connection, and he’s working off of a 2001 copy of Baseball Prospectus that we bought him off of eBay, so he flipped through the book and found the Roberto Hernandez who played the prior year in Tampa Bay. He says he didn’t expect that we would have bought him a 13-year-old baseball guide. Turns out they actually produce one every year–who knew? Anyway, don’t blame him, blame me. I should have gotten the guy dial-up internet like the rest of us have.”

Next Article2014 Phillies Preview at HardballTalk