Two Months Later, Roberto Hernandez Still Getting It Done

At the end of May, I took stock of starter Roberto Hernandez‘s performance. He had, to that point, compiled a 3.76 ERA over 12 starts. In the four starts after that, he struggled, ballooning his ERA to 4.52, but he was the least of the Phillies’ concerns at the time.

Since then, in his last seven starts, Hernandez has notched five quality starts (missing a sixth by one-third of an inning) with a 2.85 ERA, lowering his overall ERA on the season to 3.87, only a smidge higher than it was the last time we checked up on the right-hander.

In March, we learned via GM Ruben Amaro that the Phillies’ new analytics department was responsible for bringing Hernandez to Philadelphia. Amaro didn’t go into any great detail about the specific reasons why they thought he would turn things around. However, Amaro did mention his home run rate. Pitchers, over a large sample of innings (several seasons’ worth), tend to regress towards the 10-12 percent league average on fly balls.

Hernandez allowed home runs on 21 percent of fly balls in 2013 with the Rays. Combining expected regression in that regard along with his improved strikeout rate (2013’s 17.6 percent strikeout rate marked a career-high), Hernandez was an easy buy-low target.

For the most part, the analytics department called it correctly on Hernandez. There have been two concerning factors which have led to some of Hernandez’s problems this season, however: his strikeout rate has declined to previous rates (14 percent) and his walk rate has ballooned to 10.4 percent, by far his highest rate over the last five years. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.36 is his lowest out of any of his last five full seasons (20-plus starts).

Additionally, Hernandez has benefited from a .256 batting average on balls in play. It’s actually astonishing, considering the poor quality of the Phillies’ infield defense at the corners combined with Hernandez’s propensity to induce ground balls. It won’t last, of course. Hernandez’s xFIP is nearly a full run higher in 2014 than it was last year, 4.58 to 3.60. As the smart money was on Hernandez being better this year, the smart money is on Hernandez being worse going forward.

Baby steps. The Phillies were one of the last of the 30 teams in baseball to create an analytics department of some kind, and hopefully they have been enthused by the suave identification of Hernandez as a bounce-back candidate, and use it to make future personnel decisions. With Kyle Kendrick and Hernandez heading into free agency, with the potential to trade A.J. Burnett in the off-season (or this month), and with Cliff Lee‘s future in question, the Phillies will have to overhaul the starting rotation. They already have $128 million locked up for 2015, so they’ll need some savvy to round out the roster before next April.

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17 comments

  1. Carmine

    August 05, 2014 11:12 AM

    So it’s entirely conceivable that four-fifths of the starting rotation is gone next year. That means Hamels has to stay unless a serviceable starter is included in the package that he would net on the trade market. Buchanan is a likely candidate for one spot. Nola is another, but should be kept on limited innings. We have to hope the Phillies’ analytics staff finds another bargain or two going forward and pray that Cliff recovers. Once again, Ruben’s throwing in of Trevor May in the Revere deal is shown to be a bad decision even by his standards.

    • Yah

      August 05, 2014 01:52 PM

      vance worley is also having himself a nice bounce back. looking like that ben revere trade wasn’t so great.

      • Chris S.

        August 05, 2014 02:26 PM

        So far Ben Revere has produced 2.1 fWAR while Worley and Mays has produced -0.2 fWAR to the Twins. Looks like a good trade so far because I don’t think much of Trevor May, he walks too many people and his career Minor League ERA is just under 4. That was one of Amaro’s better trades because he sold high on Worley.

      • Yah

        August 05, 2014 07:44 PM

        what about the fact that worley has a 2.43 era in 8 starts this year?

      • tom b

        August 05, 2014 10:03 PM

        nobody trades for a lousy fielding low obp.,singles hitter except the philiies. by the way,i kinda like revere a little but not as a trade pickup. if he came up thru the system fine,but i wouldn’t trade for him. the days when the juan pierre’s of the world are sought after are over.

      • Chris S.

        August 06, 2014 09:08 AM

        Worley is doing that for the Pirates not the Twins. The Phillies could have picked up Worley this year but declined. Since Worley is doing it this year for a different team that shouldn’t count against the Phillies for the trade, you have to look at trades based on what the players produced for the teams involved. The Pirates were not involved in the trade for Revere so the Twins get no credit towards the turn around Worley has made because it goes to the Pirates coaching staff. As a side note, when the Phillies traded for Revere he was regarded as a really good defensive player, granted in LF, but who could blame the Phillies for thinking that could translate to CF? Not I, I too thought that Revere could make the adjustment and still believe he will make the adjustment. His defensive metrics have been creeping up since about mid June

      • Bob

        August 06, 2014 11:03 AM

        I agree with most of what you wrote but Revere’s defensive metrics have fluctuated between average and below-and they’ve been getting worse recently. IIRC, he was at a -2.1 UZR/150 last month and he’s dropped to -8.1. His -16 DRS is the third worst for any qualified position player in all of baseball

      • Chris S.

        August 06, 2014 03:51 PM

        And Mike Trout has a -8.5 UZR/150 and a -5 DRS.

      • Bob

        August 06, 2014 07:43 PM

        What’s your point? You said Revere’s defensive metrics have been creeping up since June, which isn’t true based on the metrics I look at. Which metrics are you referring to then because you can’t be referring to UZR or DRS where he’s gotten worse?

      • Chris S.

        August 07, 2014 08:44 AM

        My point is that defensive metrics can be misleading over small sample sizes. UZR is one in particular that requires a long time to normalize. In fact Fangraphs says to take the average of a 3 year period and Ben Revere has played just under 200 games in center for the Phillies which is a 1 and 1/4th of a year worth of games. I wasn’t looking at his UZR or DRS, I was just looking at his overall defensive number that Fangraphs has for each player at the top of their fangraphs page. IIRC, at one point he was somewhere in the -4 range around mid-June and now he sits at -3. What I said was based completely off my memory which has a tendency to be faulty at times. :)

  2. Adam G

    August 05, 2014 02:24 PM

    I’m assuming by “analytics department” you mean the lone employee looking at analytics, right?

    • Bob

      August 05, 2014 02:32 PM

      There are four of them last I heard. They even posted an internship opportunity on Fangraphs.

  3. Bob

    August 05, 2014 05:31 PM

    Phillies need to get Jacob Turner. His 3.93 xFIP is 84th of pitchers with more than 70 IP, which is better than Burnett, Bastardo, Buchanan, Kendrick, and Hernandez. He has the second highest BABIP against in all of baseball sitting at .368 and a 51% GB rate. He was projected to have around a .300 BABIP against, so he’s do for some good luck on balls in play. And he’s only 23. Even if he’s a number 4, the Phils can get some value there.

  4. JonCheddar

    August 05, 2014 08:12 PM

    Alternate Headline:

    Two Months Later, Roberto Hernandez Still Getting Lucky

  5. tom b

    August 05, 2014 09:57 PM

    i propose the phillies offer howard and j.p.crawford to the orioles for chris davis. davis and howard cancel each other out,at least this year and i would hate to have to sacrifice crawford, but davis has some chance of a rebound and you are gonna save a boatload of money. i think crawford will be a good but not great player and it gives you a lot of wiggle room to improve the team. just thinking out loud

    • tom b

      August 06, 2014 10:55 AM

      didn’t think you all would like it,but honestly i think the orioles turn it down anyway

  6. bubba0101

    August 06, 2014 10:12 AM

    Add him to the list of potential trades that never happened so now we will receive nothing for him. Whats that like 15 now?

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