The Roberto Hernandez Tale of Tough Luck


Apr 25, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher

Roberto Hernandez

(27) pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Most people would agree that Roberto Hernandez was one of the more least desirable signings of the offseason for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The 33-year-old right-handed pitcher is seven years removed from his 19-win, Cy Young candidate season with the Cleveland Indians. Over his career, he has accumulated just two seasons with ten or more wins. Since 2008, his earned run average has averaged 5.53. All things considered, the Hernandez signing was thought to be another Ruben Amaro Jr. blunder.

After all, the catcalls still reverberate and ring over the identity crisis Hernandez underwent a few years ago while he was still known as Fausto Carmona. With statistical irrelevance and below mediocre output, Hernandez has been a laughingstock for social media for some time now. Now he’s in Phillies pinstripes.

Get used to him.

The righty’s peripheral numbers suggest he is having an awful season. Currently sitting with a 5.81 ERA, Hernandez is toting a 1-1 record through five starts. In his five outings, the Phillies are 2-3. Opponents’ Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) stands out at .325. To make matters worse, Hernandez is allowing a home run-to-fly ball rate of 23.5 percent, good for fifth highest in Major League Baseball.

Hernandez’s splits suggest something else too. As a righty, he has been much better against left-handed hitting. He has faced lefty’s 43 times thus far, allowing just 6 hits and a .177 AVG. Righty’s are hitting .320. After facing 35 more right-handed hitter’s than the opposite, Hernandez has issued a difference of just five walks, which is good, signifying his harrowing and diverging splits in terms of batted balls.

However, a deeper truth lies to Hernandez’s work early in 2014.

Hernandez has been more unlucky than horrid. Despite his skyscraper-like 5.81 ERA, his Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) stands at 4.53. According to FanGraphs, FIP “measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.”

Essentially, Hernandez’s FIP tells us he has not been pitching as awful as his ERA suggests. A 4.53 FIP is still unpleasant but the righty has been more unlucky than bad. Hernandez will improve on the eyeball test so long as his ERA descends into the same space as his FIP. There is more to the story too.

The 33-year-old’s strand rate is presently 65.9 percent. Also known as Left on Base Percentage (LOB%), the league average is typically 71 percent. When one’s LOB% is greater than the league average by a few points or more, that pitcher is considered to have been lucky. The opposite is true when a pitcher’s LOB% is a few points or more lesser than the league average. The latter is what we have with Hernandez.

He has been more unlucky than bad in terms of LOB%. While hits and other base reaching actions can damage one’s LOB%, fielding and poor defense contribute just as much if not more in many cases. Among early season qualifiers, Hernandez has the ninth lowest LOB%. Meanwhile, early and dominating starts from the like’s of Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto and Alex Wood are coupled with great LOB% rates sitting at 100 percent, 98.4 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

Hernandez cannot remain as unlucky as he has been throughout the entire season. Once his LOB% gravitates closer to the league average, he will further improve upon his traditional numbers and help his cause as an adequate arm in the Phillies rotation.

As for Hernandez himself, many including myself were advocating for a better pitcher in the Phillies rotation. As stated earlier, the righty is not desired among the fan base. His mainstream numbers are making the naysayers appear right, despite what metrics suggest. His metrics don’t appear to make Hernandez look like a stud by any means but they do present us with a different side to the story.

While the sample size is still small, Hernandez is also striking out batters at a career-high rate. His K/9, which measures how many strikeouts he tallies in every nine innings pitched, is 8.54 through 26.1 innings. His career K/9 is 5.15. Notwithstanding, his K/9 trended upward last season with the Tampa Bay Rays when he finished with a previous career high of 6.74.

His next start is projected to come May 2 versus the Washington Nationals. Will this be the start where a new, reformed Hernandez emerges? Is it possible that the tough luck will begin to evaporate and Hernandez will do more to assist the Phillies?

Only time will tell but one thing is certain. As mediocre or bad as Hernandez has been in the past, he hasn’t been nearly as bad in 2014 as he has been in previous years, despite what his ERA suggests. Metrics advance a different tale. A tale of tough luck for Hernandez.