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.

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3 comments

  1. TomG

    April 10, 2014 10:14 AM

    It wasn’t until I was in the car heading home and listening to the post game wrap-up on the radio that I was aware that Hernandez had gotten 9 strikeouts in 5 innings. (My son is a diehard and we do NOT leave a game until after the final out. This approach has its rewards because, unlike the people who left during the 8th – when for all intent and purposes the loss occurred – we got to see Reynolds’ two-run dinger, which was fun if you’re into having your already-crushed soul crushed even more, as we apparently are.) I had no idea Hernandez’d gotten that many Ks.

    But 20 swings and misses? Wow. I’m retroactively impressed. I’ll say this for RH: he’s given the team a fighting chance for a win in both of his starts and it wasn’t his fault they didn’t get one last night.

    But you’re right. His quietly impressive performance was lost in the mix of bad fielding, poor managing, shoddy ‘pen performance, and Ben Revere gravity-defiance. (It’s not obvious from the video, but that running catch Revere made on Overbay’s drive? From the angle we had in short left field, it looked as though he had no chance of catching up to that one. That was why I was hoping against hope that he’d catch up to that drive by Braun: it seemed as though there was nothing BR couldn’t catch up to last night. (The Overbay catch happened after Braun’s triple, but you get my point.) This is part of what fascinates me about Revere. He made two-three awful plays in the previous two games. Then … last night happened.)

  2. GB

    April 10, 2014 11:47 AM

    Interesting take on Hernandez…unfortunately he also left a bunch of pitches up that hurt, but overall was decent.

    On Revere though, that is what we’ve gotten so far…some absolute highlight reel catches mixed in with some truly horrific defensive plays. There are even folks stating his highlight reel catches are made more dramatic because he takes such bad routes to balls, but has the speed to make up for it…

  3. flavaflave

    April 14, 2014 11:14 AM

    The Red Hot, free swinging Brewers might have had a lot to do with those swinging strikes….

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