Is It Time for the Roberto Hernandez Experiment to End?

USA TODAY Sports

As the midway point approaches, will the Rays give Alex Torres a shot to overtake Hernandez in the starting rotation?

The Good: Roberto Hernandez has seen his ERA drop 2.51 runs on average from last season's disastrous three-game spurt in Cleveland, and 0.23 runs from his last full year in the majors, back in 2011.

The Bad (and sadly, the reality): His ERA is 5.02. And with mid-June quickly turning into the dog days of summer, it may time to pull the plug on the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona.

Hernandez by the Numbers

On the surface, he's 4-7, with a 5.02 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and a 65/20 K/BB ratio. Take out his 8.2 IP, 0 ER victory against the AAAA-Marlins, and his ERA jumps to 5.67.

Don't let his ERA fool you. Hernandez hasn't been all that bad:

  • His K:BB ratio has been a pleasant surprise considering his career ratio coming into the season was 1.54 K:BB.
  • His K/9 ratio is also at a career-best, as he's punching out batters at a clip of 7.77 K/9, a much higher clip than his previous career-high of 6.99 K/9 during his rookie season in 2006.
  • For a team that has had to burn its bullpen far too often, Hernandez has eaten a lot of innings, pitching at least six innings eight different times.
  • His FIP stands at 4.48, slightly better than his career rate (4.51).
  • And for what it's worth, his xFIP stands at 3.53, the lowest of his career.

Unfortunately, it's tough to sugar coat the complete body of work, nit-picking stats be damned.

The Rays defense can't do much about line drives.

Fausto's GB% is at a career-low, inducing grounders only 50% of the time, and well-below his career average of 58.3%. To make matters worse, his LD% rate is at a career-high, with batters hitting line-drives a quarter of the time (24.8%). Hernandez has made a career out of being a ground-ball specialist. Couple the big drop in groundballs with the rise in line-drives, and you negate the added bonus of more strike-outs and less walks. The goal as a pitcher is outs, one way or another, and the Rays defense can't do much about line drives.

His velocity has also been a concern. Fausto's fastball is clocking in at 91.5 MPH, below his career-average of 92.8 MPH, and much more in-line with his disastrous stint last season (91.4 MPH). Throw in a diminishing slider (83.4 MPH this season vs. a career-average of 85.3 MPH), and Hernandez simply isn't the same pitcher he once was. Even if we believe the HR/FB ratio will eventually positively regress, the drop in velocity shows that any positive regression will probably be slight at best.

While everybody is (rightfully) giddy over the call-up of Wil Myers, the Rays top-prospect doesn't pitch. And that's exactly what the Rays need right now. As a team, the Rays currently rank 27th in ERA, and have essentially wasted the league's seventh-best scoring offense.

Holding runners on once they reach base, a relative strength in years past, has turned into a weakness. In 2011, runners were successful stealing bases 71.4% of the time. This season, they've succeeded on 11 of 13 attempts, good for an 84.6% clip.

Hernandez probably can be effective as a long-reliever out of the bullpen, particularly against righties. While righties are batting .265 against him, much higher than their career rate of .245, Hernandez has mostly limited the damage to singles, as he's allowed only eight XBH in 140 plate appearances. He has also punched out righties at an excellent rate, with 30 strike-outs compared to only three walks. Even his weakness of holding runners on is seemingly mitigated by who he's facing: when facing a lefty, runners are a perfect 8/8 on the base paths. When facing a righty, runners are only 3/5. That may just be noise, but if not, it's interesting.

Against lefties, Hernandez struggles mightily. So far, he's faced 192 batters, surrendering 49 hits (.288 BAA). The real troubling sign within that number is that of the 49 hits, over forty percent of them are extra base-hits (11 doubles, nine homers). Couple in the fact that his control issues arise vs. lefties (35:17 K:BB ratio), and it's clear that the book on how to beat Hernandez is to make him face lefty after lefty.

If Hernandez comes out of the bullpen, Maddon will have the opportunity to line him up against righty-heavy line-ups, or force an opposing manager to make a corresponding line-up change to bring a pinch-hitter (i.e. most likely worse) lefty to face Hernandez. This move to the pen should raise his velocity across the board and will most likely bring a major drop to his inflated HR/FB ratio, as well as increase his career-best K:BB ratio. Most importantly for the Rays, it would minimize the danger he's encountered when facing lefties.

With Alex Torres' sizzling start out of the bullpen, it may be time to see what the centerpiece of the Scott Kazmir trade can do as a starter. During his nine starts in AAA this season, Torres went 2-2 with a 3.52 ERA, while striking out 11.93 batters/nine, and allowing only 2 homers over 46 innings. For comparison's sake, Hernandez has allowed 12 homers over 75.1 innings.

  • Torres has shown excellent control since joining the Rays, a trait he struggled with while in AAA. In 18.1 IP thus far, he holds a 24:5 K:BB ratio. In AAA, Torres had a 61:21 K:BB ratio, which is nearly identical to Hernandez' K:BB rate this season.
  • While Torres' sterling 0.00 ERA is jaw-dropping, it has been a small sample-size. But when you account his very strong FIP (1.25) and xFIP (2.25), it's clear that his success hasn't been a fluke.
  • Of the four hits Torres has allowed, two have gone for doubles. But he's surrendering an incredibly low 5.7 LD%, while forcing hitters to hit ground-balls 57.1% of the time. The only concern is a high fly-ball ratio (37.1%) will probably catch up with him eventually. Still, in 261.1 innings throughout three seasons in AAA, Torres only allowed 15 homers. If anything, it seems that the high fly-ball rate will drop dramatically. The important factor to look at is if hitters will turn weak fly-outs into line-drivers or ground-balls.
  • Torres, a lefty, has actually pitched better against righties, holding them to a paltry .030 BA (1/33). His K:BB ratio against righties (14:3) is nearly identical to what it is against lefties (10:2). Lefties are hitting slightly better (.115, going 3/26) but haven't exactly found much success in their own right.

The reality is though, that even if Hernandez struggles, with the Rays current injury woes, they may not have a choice but to keep Hernandez in the rotation. Price's return date is murky at best, and he wasn't exactly pitching well before he was hurt. With Alex Cobb out at least the next week, the Rays may be stuck with Hernandez for the time-being.

Should Hernandez be moved to the bullpen in favor of Alex Torres?

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