Through Two Months, Roberto Hernandez Doing A Good Job

During the off-season, the Phillies made a low-risk signing of Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, to a one-year $4.5 million deal. The right-hander was coming off of an awful 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays in which he finished with a 4.89 ERA in 151 innings. Even in his seven seasons with the Cleveland Indians between 2006-13 were mostly unproductive, as he finished with an aggregate 4.64 ERA. The signing was not outright unpopular, but it certainly didn’t move the needle any to get fans excited about the season and it appeared that the Phillies could have made comparatively lateral moves for less money.

In early March, we learned that the Phillies’ new analytics department, headed up by Scott Freedman, made the case for the Hernandez signing. While their reasoning is unknown, the most obvious deduction is that they figured Hernandez’s home run rate would regress towards the mean. Hernandez finished 2013 with 21 percent of his fly balls going for home runs, about nine percent above his career average and 11 percent above the league average.

They likely also noticed that Hernandez’s strikeout rate reached a career-high 17.6 percent in 2013 while posting the lowest walk rate (six percent) of his career. A pitcher’s strikeout and walk rates are the quickest way to get a handle on his talent and while Hernandez didn’t grade out to be a future Cy Young winner, he did appear to be better than his ERA indicated.

On Wednesday night, Hernandez earned a no-decision against the Colorado Rockies after allowing two runs over 5 2/3 innings of work, allowing six hits and five walks while striking out four. The outing lowered his ERA to 3.76 despite an ugly 42/27 K/BB ratio in 52 2/3 innings. If the season were to end right now, the ERA would be the second-best of his career, just ahead of 2010’s 3.77 and behind 2007’s 3.06.

Thus far, Hernandez’s strikeout rate remains at 17 percent, he has continued to induce a lot of ground balls (53 percent), and his HR/FB rate has regressed to 15 percent, closer to both his career average and the league average, as expected. However, Hernandez’s walk rate has jumped significantly, up to 11 percent. He hasn’t walked that many since 2009 (12 percent). Additionally, while the HR/FB regression is nice, it’s not enough. His HR/FB rate is the seventh-highest among 99 qualified starters in baseball.

Perhaps that’s the give-and-take with Hernandez, or ground ball pitchers in general. Among those at the top of the HR/FB rate list, many of them have ground ball rates above 50 percent: Brandon McCarthy (54.0%, 1st), Homer Bailey (54.2%, 3rd), Edinson Volquez (50.3%, 5th), Gerrit Cole (51.4%, 6th), Yovani Gallardo (53.7%, 8th), Francisco Liriano (53.2%, 9th), Jorge De La Rosa (55.8%, 11th).

Hernandez can, however, work on his control. His walk rate is the fourth-highest among 99 qualified starters, and it’s a potentially lethal combination with his home run proclivities. He has been fortunate thus far that four out of the six home runs he has allowed have come with the bases empty, and the other two have had only one runner on base. But if you play with fire enough, eventually you’ll get burned. Hernandez has stranded 81 percent of runners on base, 12 percent above his career average. Strand rate isn’t something pitchers have a whole lot of control over; it’s heavily a function of timing and team defense.

While we got the HR/FB regression we expected going into the 2014 season, Hernandez has benefited from some timely pitching with runners on base. Unless he is able to dramatically reduce his walk rate over the next four months, we should see his ERA crawl up and land somewhere between his 4.12 xFIP and 4.64 FIP. Still, for $4.5 million, the Phillies have gotten and should continue to get their money’s worth out of Hernandez.

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  1. edwin

    May 30, 2014 09:52 AM

    I think he should go through the rest of his time here as ‘formerly known as Fausto.’

  2. Bob

    May 30, 2014 10:50 AM

    Out of 109 pitchers with 50 or more IP, Roberto Hernandez ranks 96th in FIP. His xFIP puts him at 82/109. His SIERA of 4.28 is tied for 85/109.

    If 30 teams in MLB with five man rotations, that’s 150 SP in a perfect world. Due to the vagaries of the early season schedule, fifth starters have had turns skipped. Pitchers have also gotten injured. That’s probably how we only get 109 pitchers with over 50 IP.

    Surprising to me is that Kendrick’s SIERA and xFIP are worse than that and Verlander’s are terrible. So, I guess you could say that Hernandez is a decent number 4 starter and possibly a number 3 on some bad teams if (1) you take into account the small sample size and (2) you believe in FIP and SIERA. And he’s pitched better than Kendrick thus far for about 3mm less money.

  3. TomG

    May 30, 2014 01:52 PM

    Those two walks Hamels gave up before Rosario homered the other night bear out your point about walks. He gets those guys out and that homer makes it merely 2-1 and Hamels maybe stays in another inning instead of the Manship tire fire.

    To a lesser extent, the walk Buchanan gave up before Young’s homer hurt the chance to come back.

    It seems odd to key on these pitching mistakes in games where the offense (and defense) were more to blame for the loss than the pitching was, but nevertheless, the walks hurt. Home runs are gonna happen. Dingers with men on board due to walks don’t have to.

    • TomG

      May 30, 2014 01:54 PM

      Adding … and the walk was to Granderson, who’s hitting a Dom Brown-esque .202.

  4. toodrunktotastethischicken

    May 30, 2014 01:52 PM

    Bill, if he keeps this up and the season continues towards “Sell Mode” at the trade deadline what do you think they could get for him?

  5. GB

    May 31, 2014 10:17 AM

    Roberto is mediocre and a typical Phils signing; not terrible, but not good enough to make much difference

    We’d not get anything of value for him in trade as most know he is not worth much

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