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D-backs on the Ballot, #1: Livan Hernandez

With the Hall of Fame ballot results out this week, we’re taking a look at the players with Arizona connections who are on it.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Chicago Cubs
  • Years active: 1996-2012
  • Stats: 3189 IP, 4.44 ERA, 178-177, 25.2 bWAR
  • Years as a Diamondback: 2006-2007
  • Stats as a Diamondback: 273.2 IP. 4.64 ERA, 15-16, 3.1 bWAR

Livan Hernandez was born in Cuba, and defected from the Island in 1995, with his half-brother Orlando following him two years later. He was a total workhorse over his time in the majors. No pitcher threw more innings in the decade of the 2000’s, with Hernandez averaging over 220 frames per year and leading the league in IP for three consecutive seasons, from 2003-2005. His rookie season saw him win a World Series ring with the Marlins, Livan going 4-0 for them in the playoffs, including a 15 strikeout outing against Atlanta in the NLCS. He won both the League Championship and World Series MVP awards that year, becoming the only rookie to do so.

Hernandez was dealt to the San Francisco Giants in 1999, and made it back to the World Series with San Francisco in 2002. But that ended badly, Hernandez going 0-2 there, and being torched for nine earned runs in only 5.2 innings, including the loss in Game 7. He wouldn’t pitch for the Giants again, being dealt to the Expos the following March. There, he began the league-leading three season spell mentioned above, reaching its peak in 2004, when Livan threw 255 innings. No National League pitcher has matched that tally since, the closest being Roy Halladay’s 250.2 innings of work with Philadelphia in 2010.

Livan became a Diamondback in a post-trade deadline deal during August 2006, being sent with cash to Arizona Diamondbacks for minor-league pitchers Matt Chico and Garrett Mock (neither of whom amounted to anything much). He went 4-5 with a 3.76 ERA down the stretch, then along with Doug Davis and Brandon Webb, formed the three-headed beast of Arizona’s rotation, as they somehow won the National League West in 2007, despite being outscored by 20 runs. Hernandez was very much part of that: he led the league in hits allowed (247) and home-runs (34), while posting a K:BB ratio of only 90:79 in his 204.1 innings. Yet despite a 4.93 ERA, he went 11-11.

No outing summed up Hernandez’s time here better than Game 3 of the NLCS, against the Cubs in Wrigley Field, where Livan walked five batters and hit another. As we noted in our recap, “Outside the leadoff man in each inning, he faced only two hitters with the bases empty until the sixth.” But the Cubs hit into three double plays in the first five frames, and scored just a single run off Hernandez in six innings, as the Diamondbacks completed their unexpected sweep. As he said, “Pressure is nothing. I got more pressure when I lived in Cuba and I got up in the morning looking for something. It’s a lot of pressure when you don’t find nothing...”

He almost did the same thing in the NLCS against the Rockies. Pitching in that series’s Game 3, Hernandez came within one strike of holding the opposition to one run over six innings again. But instead, Yorvit Torrealba smacked a tie-breaking three-run homer, in what would prove to be Livan’s final appearance as a Diamondback. It wasn’t the end of his career: he would pitch five more seasons for six different teams, and officially retired in March 2014. Despite earning more than $53 million over his career, he filed for bankruptcy last June, citing debts of more than $1 million to 50 different creditors, including the IRS.

Worth noting, is that Hernandez was one of the best-hitting pitchers of recent times, with a career batting average of .221 in over eleven hundred plate appearances, and ten home-runs (the first of which came off future Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine!). In the DH era (since 1973) that BA ranks Livan third among all pitchers with 750+ PA, behind Mike Hampton and Rick Rhoden. His Hall of Fame credentials, however, likely remain weak, despite winning the World Series MVP. A barely winning record and career ERA+ of just 94 are not Cooperstown material, much though his stamina and longevity deserve to be admired.