Roberto Hernandez’s Bat-Missing Game Was on Point
Roberto Hernandez allowed four runs (three earned) over five innings in last night’s start against the Brewers. Not a great start, not a bad start. Considering last night’s bullpen implosion in the eighth and ninth innings, Hernandez’s performance was about the ninth- or tenth-most interesting thing about the game. But broadcaster Tom McCarthy pointed out something after Hernandez had exited the game that made me go back and listen to make sure I heard it right:
Roberto Hernandez induced 20 swinging strikes. That’s right, the ground ball machine with a 14.4 career strikeout rate threw 104 pitches and induced swinging strikes in 19.2 percent of them. Hernandez finished with nine strikeouts in total, one of only three times in his career he has whiffed that many and the first time since September 2007.
Just how rare is 20 swinging strikes? Hernandez had gotten 15 or more of them just four other times in his career, spanning 218 games and 179 starts:
- 15 against the Royals on September 15, 2007
- 18 against the Mariners on August 23, 2009
- 16 against the Tigers on August 11, 2011
- 16 against the Mariners on August 22, 2011
Last season, a Phillies starter induced 20 or more whiffs just once out of 162 games. Cliff Lee accomplished the feat on June 2, 2013 against the Brewers.
Part of the reason the Phillies decided to take a chance on Hernandez, though, was his improved strikeout rate. Last season, despite finishing with a 4.89 ERA in 151 innings, Hernandez struck out hitters at a respectable 17.6 percent clip, surpassing his previous career-high of 15.6 percent in 2007.
Hernandez induced the whiffs by staying low in the strike zone:
As the heat map indicates, only right-handed hitters swung and missed at Hernandez’s offerings last night, but that’s because the Brewers’ #1-7 hitters were all exclusively right-handers. Only Scooter Gennett, at #8, hit from the left side. But unsurprisingly, Hernandez does have a platoon split over his career, with a 3.94 xFIP against right-handers and 4.50 against lefties. Even last season, when he saw his strikeout rate improve, he missed more right-handed bats and walked them less often.
When Hernandez next takes the mound, he’ll be at home against the Braves on Monday, who have two fearsome left-handed hitters in Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. We’re unlikely to see him ever miss 20 bats in a game again, but particularly so against teams that aren’t stacked to the gills with right-handed hitters like the Brewers were.