No one ever says that Roberto Hernandez doesn't have good stuff.
That's a sinker and a four seam fastball that average 92 mph, a changeup at 85 mph, and a slider at 83 mph. The sinker is, obviosuly, one of the better groundball inducers in the game, and all discussions about Hernandez start there. But despite it's obvious quality, Hernandez's sinker has gotten hit and hit hard over his career. I asked our local Cleveland expert, Steve Kinsella, why:
His poor performances seemed to be a result of a number of things cascading on him. He always has a lot of movement and when an umpire doesn't give him the low part of the zone he gets bothered. This results in overthrowing, walks, and inevitably a ball that gets up in the strike zone and leaves the yard.These homers were a function of feeling like he had to bring the ball up that day.There was a second issue. Sometimes while the walks and groundballs made it through the infield there would be an error, a double play not turned, or a blown call behind the plate and he would just throw a meatball up there. Those were the inexcusable.What I have seen so far this season is a determination to keep the ball low in the zone and keep his emotions in check. If an umpire blows a call or he gives up a few bleeders or bloopers just keep being himself. Once I see him forcing the ball up in the zone or serving of meatballs up I'll be all about getting him out of the rotation.
So, Kinsella sees a pitcher with the ability to make marginal but important mental improvements. I think there was another aspect, though. Sinker overuse. A batter can take a borderline low pitch when he's looking for it. A batter can slam a slightly up pitch when he's looking for it.
When the Rays first signed Hernandez, I saw him as a potential bullpen reclamation ace. I thought his sinker , slider, and changeup were all being used appropriately, and that a transition to the pen would allow him to up his velocity and make all three more effective while completely dropping the inferior four-seam fastball.
Now though, I believe I was wrong. Carmona has far more potential than that of a bullpen ace. He's can be a legitimate quality starter. He's showing an improved process, and I think he can improve that process even more. (I wrote most of but didn't finish before his last start, in which he pitched six innings of one-run ball, allowed six men to reach base, and struck out seven—this is why you should always meet your deadlines, kids.)
The shift in approach is obvious. Hernandez is throwing more changeups at the expense of both his poor four-seam fastball and his signature sinker. What I didn't understand before watching him this year is just how good his changeup is. Compare it to Fernando Rodney's changeup for a second, one of the best and most extreme in the game. It doesn't have the crazy arm-side run (it runs 7 inches to Rodney's 10), but it has three inches MORE drop to it on average (it has essentially no rise due to spin, which means that in real life it appears to dive dramatically). And like Rodney, despite all of the of the movement, Roberto Hernandez has been able to throw his changeup for a strike better than any of his other pitches over his entire career.
It's good what he's done, but Hernandez can and should lean on his changeup even more. It's his most whiff-inducing pitch (20% of the time when he throws it, 30% of the time when it's swung at), and it creates just marginally fewer ground balls than his sinker. Against right handed batters, Hernandez goes to his changeup heavily when he's ahead in the count, but almost never (3% of the time according to Brooks Baseball) on the first pitch.
Fausto, take a page out of 2012 Rodney's book (and James Shields before him). Throw your best pitch to every batter in every count. It's good enough, and the entire rest of your game will benefit. The process is good. The process can get better. Results will follow.
Use the below charts to examine Roberto Hernandez's approach for yourself: