Name: David Hernandez
Age on opening day: 25
2011 stats: 5-3, 3.38 ERA, 77K, 30BB, 69.1 IP, 11 Saves, 23 Holds, 1.139 WHIP, 117 ERA+,
2010 stats: 8-8, 4.31 ERA, 72K, 42BB, 79.1 IP, 2 Saves, 2 Holds, 1.437 WHIP, 97 ERA+
David Hernandez arrived in Arizona during the 2010-2011 offseason as part of the Mark Reynolds trade, and played a pivotal role in strengthening a bullpen that posted an abysmally bad 5.74 ERA in relief during the 2010 season. Though Kam Mickolio, the other return in that trade contributed little to Arizona's NL West-winning 2011, both tangible production along with intangibles such as confidence and stability in the latter innings combine to make that trade, in my mind, a win for Arizona.
Deets, as always, after the jump.
Hernandez grew up in the Sacramento area and played baseball for Cosumnes River College, a Sacramento-area juco that also boasts alumnus Jermaine Dye. Drafted in the 16th round of the 2005 Rule 4 player draft by the Baltimore Orioles, the 483rd overall pick spent nearly his entire minor league career as a starting pitcher, relieving exactly 6 professional games out of 127 pitched before 2010. The righty throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup mix.
Replacing a homegrown hero in Mark Reynolds, who hammered 121 homers as a Dback and swiped 42 bags, is no easy task. I don't think I was the only person who expressed this sentiment when, last December, upon hearing the details of the trade, I angrily tweeted, "You don't trade an everyday position player for two middling relievers." Though Hernandez' walk rate fluctuated from year to year while in the minors, his strikeout rate progressed each season bar one in the minors, and has progressed each season in the majors. Still, there was probably no real way we could've known what kind of season Hernandez was going to have, especially given that many people still thought Kevin Towers was bringing in Hernandez to compete for a rotation spot. FanGraphs' Fan Projections showed Hernandez pitching 95 innings (reflecting his history as a starter) with a 4.28 FIP and 4.14 ERA, good enough for 0.8 fWAR.
David, however, did well enough to put up half a win higher than that, according to FanGraphs, over 25 fewer innings. Hernandez pitched Opening Day and three of the Diamondbacks' first four games, not giving up a run until the 19th of April, in his 8th game. Taking the 8th inning and running with it, as the primary setup man, Hernandez ran up a total of 23 holds this season. Now, the hold may be a dumb stat, but only Brandon Lyon, Tony Pena, and Luis Vizcaino have pitched Dbacks seasons with more or equal holds. When Hernandez pitched, the team went 54-20. He added 1.57 wins this season by WPA in aggreggate, and exactly half of the time (37 outings in 74) when he came in, it was a high leverage situation. After normal closer JJ Putz went to the DL, Hernandez went from setup work to closing out Dbacks games and was largely successful. After blowing a save on the 26th of June, Hernandez went on a 7 game save streak wherein he only allowed a single baserunner (a walk) over 6.1 IP in save situations. Upon returning to his 8th inning role on July 27th, Hernandez continued his streak without blowing a lead or a tie and finished with a combined 28 straight games in that category. He had a season ERA as low as 1.65 on June 4th, and below 2.80 before imploding and allowing 5 runs on September 6th. He struck out 10 batters per 9 innings on the season and, even with Chase Field as his home park, only allowed 4 home runs. His allowed OPS of .561 was lowest on the team for anyone with 21 IP or more (only Brad Ziegler was better), and his opponents' BA of .193 was the absolute lowest -- he barely pipped Putz in both categories.
If Achilles had a heel, though, it was inherited runners -- 38% scored, which isn't an awful number, but still a bit higher than you'd like. Then, there were the walks. His nice 1.139 WHIP belied a walk rate of 3.9 per 9 innings. It was his lowest walk rate of his major league career, and it'd be nice to continue to see improvement there.
Diamondbacks fans will be hoping for even bigger and better things from David in 2012. To start, Hernandez isn't even arbitration eligible until 2013, though he's due for a raise to $480,000 at least, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. Short of injury, Hernandez should continue to easily outperform what he's paid (by nearly 14x in 2011 according to FanGraphs -- WAR value of $5.9 million against a $423,500 salary!).
Injury is always a concern, however, especially for a 26 year old pitcher. As anyone who was around the Snakepit during the 2011 season will know, Dan and I particularly worried about Hernandez's workload. 69.1 IP was the most relief innings of anyone on the team (11 more than Putz), but, perhaps more significantly, Hernandez came in to pitch on consecutive days 20 times in 2011, second-most on the team to LOOGY Joe Paterson, who only faced an average of slightly over 2 batters an outing. Hernandez also pitched in 74 games. Paterson was 2nd at 62 with Putz 3rd at 60, and those don't include games where Hernandez warmed up and did not pitch. Put the odds that Hernandez spends time on the DL in 2012 somewhere around an arbitrary 45%, with significant time (35+ days) at 15-20%.
Hernandez probably won't keep only 4% of his flyballs from leaving the park in 2012, and he's unlikely to hold opponents to a batting average below the Uecker Line again. Bill James has Hernandez regressing some in 2012, projecting a 4.03 ERA up from 3.38 in 2011, about the same IP, but a FIP of 4.26 vs. 2.94, and worse HR (1.21/9IP vs. 0.52/9IP), K (9/9IP vs. 10/9IP) and BB (4.03/9IP vs. 3.89/9IP) rates. I personally don't think his K rate will regress quite that sharply, if at all, and I think his BB rate will improve. Call him another solid reliever in 2012, with the potential to be a really good one again. My guess for next season? Maybe 54 IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.25 FIP, with a K rate nearly as good at 9.8K/9IP and an improved BB rate of 3.60ish per 9IP. Depending on the rest of the league, that might be about 1.1 fWAR -- not too shabby for a reliever, as relievers are traditionally overpenalized through WAR.
Incidentally, hopefully, in a few years we'll also be able to write hopeful reports on David Hernandez's little brother Raymond, who was drafted in the 48th round this year out of Cal State Fullerton. Ray Hernandez posted a 4.29 ERA over 10 starts and 70.1 innings for the AZL Diamondbacks and Missoula.
Final Grade: B+
Summary David Hernandez was a pleasant surprise in 2011 that helped significantly improve the weakest part of the 2010 team.
Okay, I’ll admit, I was not thrilled when we traded Mark Reynolds. I know, I know, you’re shocked. So I probably came in with a bit of a bias against David Hernandez. I mean, while a 4.31 ERA in 2010 might have been pretty good if you were pitching out of the Diamondbacks bullpen, it’s not really the sort of numbers you look for when one of your favorite players gets traded. Buuuut.... You look at the 2011 bullpen and he was a huge part of why they improved. He pitched in, roughly, 127% of our games this season- seriously, check the numbers- and was pretty good when we really needed it. Especially when J.J. Putz went to the DL for a while, and Hernandez stepped in as closer. Look at his numbers in July and August- 25 appearances, nine saves, nine holds, and an ERA of 1.19. The guy was a really solid piece out of our bullpen, and after suffering through 2010, you can’t appreciate those enough.
I was a little surprised to see Hernandez's ERA as high as 3.38. It seemed an awful lot lower than that. However, that was inflated by three really bad outings: 0.2 IP, 14 ER. Over his other 71 appearances, Hernandez’s ERA was 1.57, and that gives you a better idea of Hernandez's true level of performance. Put another way, in 2011, NL relievers were scored upon in 20.5% of one-inning outings. DH was basically half that, just six of 58 (10.3%). His 55 scoreless outings of an inning or more, ranked him 8th in he majors last season. Basically, despite Dan being reduced to whimpering in a corner, thanks to Hernandez warming up in the eighth just about every night, he seemed to bear the usage without ill-effect (yet), and was a vital part of the bullpen in the eighth inning. Of the 90 occasions we came in to that frame with a lead or tied, we left it trailing only three times, with one more lead becoming a tie. That's a heck of a protection rate, and if J.J. Putz departs for the big-budget closer bucks after next year, I think we have his immediate replacement already present in the bullpen.
I’m, sadly, incredibly busy lately, but have a moment to at least say that Hernandez’s performance in 2011 was ridiculously above my expectations, and was a godsend given the need for a solid set-up man who is capable of closing for the short DL stint that J.J. Putz was likely to need. He did those things, and the fans rejoiced. Now, sadly, it’s back to work.
Like most of us, I couldn’t stand the Reynolds trade at the time. It made me angry on both a sabermetric level (NEVER trade valuable position players for relievers) and an emotional one (Because it sucked to see Reynolds leave). However, you really can’t argue with the results. Hernandez was the second-best pitcher in the bullpen by almost any metric you want to use, and he easily out-fWAR’d Reynolds. It’s even more amazing when you consider that just a season before, he managed to fail out of Baltimore’s rotation, which Brian Matusz demonstrated is almost impossible to do. The walks are a concern, but you really can’t argue with a K/9 of 10, and he’s only 26. I expect more good things from Hernandez in 2012.