An Improbable Start in an Improbable Season

I find Livan Hernandez to be absolutely fascinating. Hernandez has put together a pretty mediocre career, with a 4.40 ERA and a nearly identical 4.42 FIP, but his career also spans 2800 innings and 15 seasons. He also has one of the more impressive streaks in baseball, as he has started at least 30 games every season since 1998. Somehow, he’s managed to keep latching on with teams, both contenders and bottom feeders, and he’s managed to put together seasons just good enough to earn a roster spot again the next year.

2010, however, has been different. Entering his 20th start of the season today against the Reds, Hernandez had posted a remarkable 3.27 ERA. His HR/FB rate of 5.8%, LOB% of 76.2%, and BABIP of .276 are all well on the favorable side of both his career averages and his recent performance, indicating that there’s a bit of luck involved here. Still, Hernandez has pitched pretty well, as he has limited walks (2.77 BB/9) while maintaining a similar strikeout rate (4.73 K/9) to prior seasons. He has also turned a few line drives into ground balls this season, but it’s hard to say how meaningful that is given the blurry line between batted ball types. FIP and tERA have Hernandez at 3.94 and 4.13 respectively, in a range of slightly above average to average. His xFIP of 4.70 is directly from his low HR/FB rate, but it also still suggests that Hernandez is a MLB-quality pitcher, not a replacement level scrub.

If any game was just asking for HR/FB regression for Hernandez, it was today’s start. He faced the Reds today in Great American Ballpark. The Reds have the second most home runs in the National League, in no small part due to their home field. StatCorner has the park factor for HRs in Cincinnati at 122 for right handed hitters and 135 for lefties – that’s essentially the definition of a bandbox. Of course, not all of the Reds’ prolific home run totals can be attributed to their park – we can’t forget the contributions of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce, among others in the Reds lineup.

Of course, Hernandez went out and had a start right in line with his fantastic season so far, as he threw a complete game, allowing only one run on seven hits while striking out five and walking none, undoubtedly partially thanks to the absence of Scott Rolen and Joey Votto from today’s lineup. The story for this game was similar to the story for the season – limit the walks, strike out just enough, and allow a ton of balls in the air but don’t let any leave the stadium. Fifteen of the 28 contacted balls against Hernandez went into the air, but the eight fly balls and seven line drives resulted in merely seven harmless singles. The Reds had all of four at-bats with runners in scoring position – scoring runs without walks or particularly power hitting is an incredibly difficult task.

Has Livan Hernandez discovered greatness at age 35? Of course not, but this is a legitimately good season that Hernandez has thrown together, and if nothing else, Hernandez’s longevity continues to be a baseball marvel. Today’s start was just the most recent example of Hernandez defying age. At this point, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he’s still filling the back ends of rotations in 2020.

Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

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12 years ago

I feel like stat heads have a tendency to hate guys like him, because they go against all the theories on what makes a consistently good pitcher. It’s good to see that someone on FG can just acknowledge and appreciate the fact that a solid, decent, mediocre pitcher is having a good season. For guys that stick around a long time, it happens, and it should be appreciated, not condemned. Good for Livan.