In part twenty-four of my almost 50 part series “Better Know An Oriole” (otherwise known as 2009 Orioles Retrospective), I take a look at rookie right-hander David Hernandez… THE FIGHTIN’ MINOR LEAGUE STRIKE-OUT MASTER!
Hernandez was very effective in Double-A last year, and I expected the 23 year-old to spend 2009 working on his control and developing his off-speed pitches at Triple-A Norfolk. He was only down there for 8 games though, before he was brought up to the majors – beating the Tigers in his debut. Hernandez would make three starts in the majors for being sent back down for a few weeks, and ended up posting dominant numbers in Triple-A in ’09 – 3.30 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 12.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 – showing he had nothing left to prove at that level.
Despite starting off with a W, Hernandez went just 4-10 in the majors with a 5.42 ERA in 101.1 IP. His impressive minor league strike-out numbers never materialized, and his strike-out rate was a below average 6 K/9. His walk rate of 4.1 BB/9 was worse in the majors than in the minors this year, but an improvement over his control from last year (4.5 BB/9). As an extreme flyball pitcher (53.2%), Hernandez was very prone to the longball. The 2.4 HR/9 is simply unacceptable, and it’s not as if his 14.8% HR/FB rate was all that high. The homers are largely the reason for his 6.61 FIP, which was the worst in all of baseball amongst pitchers with at least 100 IP. Even normalizing the home run rate, Hernandez’s 5.89 expected FIP was still the worst in baseball (again amongst those with 100 IP). That is really, really discouraging. Even if he can get his groundball rate (28.9%) up towards the 32-38% range he had in the minors, Hernandez will need to cut down on the free passes and up the K’s to remain serviceable in the rotation.
People have suggested that Hernandez’s stuff would play better out of the bullpen. He already throws pretty hard (about 93 mph), but his fastball doesn’t have much movement on it. His breaking-ball does have good movement, but it’s more horizontally than vertically and I don’t think it’s that great of a strike-out pitch in the majors – I vaguely recall looking at a few of his starts with Pitch/FX and noticing he wouldn’t get many swings-and-misses with it. He also throws a relatively straight change-up, but occasionally he’d show a really good one. I guess if Hernandez could pick up a couple mph on his fastball pitching out of the pen, then he might be more effective. For now though, he’s likely to remain a starter until he absolutely proves he can’t.
Photo by Keith Allison and used under the Creative Commons License 2.0.