Is Roberto Hernandez Reclamation Project Nearing An Expiration Date?
The 2012 season was a lost season for Roberto Hernandez and was a very stressful period in his life. In January of 2012 he was arrested in the Dominican Republic for using a false identity. Additionally, the former Fausto Carmona was actually 3 years older than his paperwork had reported. The legal process necessary in order to obtain a visa back to the United States to resume his pitching career wiped out most of his 2012 season and when he finally returned to the Cleveland Indians he wasn’t particularly effective posting an 0-3 record with a 7.53 ERA in just 3 starts. After the season the Indians did not pick up his $6M ption for 2013 making him a free agent.
The Rays have a track record with reclamation projects and were in need of someone to fill the void created after trading James Shields and his +200 innings along with reliever Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals in December. In Hernandez the Rays saw someone who had delivered a pair of 200+ innings and the rare free agent that they felt had not not reached his full potential. On Decemeber 18, 2012 the Rays signed him to a a 1-year $3.25M contract that included another $1.85M in performance bonuses for innings pitched ($1.25M) and relief appearances ($0.6M).
Andrew Friedman said about the signing of Hernandez “Obviously last year was a lost year for him in a lot of respects. But we feel like this is one of those risk-reward stories that make a lot of sense for us, and the upside is really compelling and gives us a chance to add to our pitching depth, which is something that is a focus for us in a way that it hasn’t been in previous years.”
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey felt that the best role for Hernandez was in the rotation saying that He’s an inning-eating guy, a 200-inning type of guy that probably ought to be a starter, He’s a big-time sinkerball guy, and with Longoria and Escobar over there, it’s pretty attractive to have that guy in the rotation.”
Thus far in 2013 Hernandez has made 9 starts and has a record of 2-5 with a 5.73 ERA. Over his first 7 starts of the season Hernandez delivered the type of performance a team would expect from their fifth starter as he went at least 6 innings in all but 1 start and posted a record of 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA.
There seemed to be some positive momentum building as the calender flipped to May and over his first two starts of the month he went a combined 12 innings allowing just 3R/ER while striking out 11 and walking just 3. Unfortunately the momentum hit a brick wall at Oriole Park in Camden Yards last Saturday when the Orioles tagged him for 5R/ER in just 2 innings of work and the downward spiral continue last night as the Yankees torched him for 5R/ER and he lasted just 4 innings.
The key to his success is having command of his sinker because if it stays flat is goes a long way but when it has its downward action it results in a lot of ground balls. Hernandez has been able to get the ground balls ranking 13th of all qualified pitchers in groundball rate at 52% but a fair share of his sinkers have been left up in the zone resulting in the worst home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB%) of all qualified pitchers at 25% and he has given up 10 home runs in just 48.2 innings of work.
His performance thus far may also be part of an anticipated learning curve as he has altered his pitch sequencing which has resulted in a career high strike rate of 20.6% as compared to his career rate of 14%. In his 2011 season, his last full season as a starting pitcher, he threw his sinker (58%), four seam fastball (10%), slider (13%), and his changeup (19%). This season he has thrown his sinker (49%), four seam fastball (8%), slider (13%), and his changeup (30%).
In his career left handed batters have a slash line (batting average/on-base%/slugging%) of .293/.363/.446 which is an OPS (on-base % + slugging%) of .809 against him while he has held right handed batters to a .243/.321/.369 an OPS of just .690. This season left handed batters are wearing Hernandez out posting a slash line of .289/.389/.588 and OPS of .977 and have connected for 8 of the 10 home runs he has given up. He continues to have success against right handed bats limiting them to .241/.276/.349 an OPS of .625.
After the game last night Joe Maddon said of Hernandez, “The primary thing is, he’s not throwing the ball well with any kind of consistency” and about the sinker that he’s “missing in the middle of the plate. It’s not where he wants it to be. That’s what I’m seeing.”
More than likely the Rays will wait until David Price returns before adding a second young arm to the rotation. With David Price on the shelf at least for a few more weeks Hernandez will have an opportunity to find the consistency and location of the sinker if he wants to remain a member of the starting rotation. If not it may not be Jake Odorizzi who finds himself out of the starting rotation when Price return. If Odorizzi should falter the Rays also have Chris Archer, Alex Torres, and Jesus Colome each performing well in Durham that could come up and replace Hernandez.
Roberto Hernadez Game Logs 2013: