The pitcher formerly known as as Fausto Carmona signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in the off-season. Roberto Hernandez was once a decent pitcher for Cleveland, a 2+ WAR pitcher as recently as 2010, but his pedestrian 2011 was followed by the revelation that he was older than he claimed to be and a suspension. Reports were that the Rays were impressed by Roberto Hernandez’ fastball movement. In fact, I favorited this tweet (Click here for the tweet) so I could go back and look at the Pitch F/X data once he pitched his first outing and see if there was really something there or just the team talking up their own players.
Hernandez threw only 5 fourseam fastballs in his start according to the manual tags, so it doesn’t make much sense to dwell on that pitch. Instead, we should look at what has always been his most commonly used pitch, including on Thursday, his sinker. Remember, the Rays’ Pitch F/X at the Trop has a +1.75 horizontal movement bias for right-handed pitchers and .97 vertical movement. So really his sinker had a horizontal movement of (-) 5.09 and 4.91 vertical movement. Both of these numbers are well below average compared to other right-handed sinkers. 2012 was such a lost season for him that it is hard to look at the data, but we see that back when he was having better days back in 2009 and 2010, his sinker was getting a lot more horizontal movement and less vertical movement.
It seems that the Rays have him standing more straight and up. From 2011 to 2012, he released the ball 5.81 feet high on average, while in his start with the Rays, he released the ball 5.95 feet on average. His horizontal release remains unchanged. He is still having a lot of problems repeating that delivery though, with horizontal standard deviation of .28 and vertical standard deviation of .19, which is a little high.
Hernandez’ average pitch (all types) had a horizontal movement of 4.49 and vertical movement of 4.37. This is good movement both ways, and provides two interesting comparisons, of pitchers that are totally different in effectiveness, Jeanmar Gomez, and Matt Harvey. Of course, one of the biggest differences between the two pitchers is the fact that Harvey throws his average pitch nearly 3 MPH harder than Gomez. When you look at Hernandez’s average pitch velocity (89.57 MPH in his first Ray start), it is really close to Matt Harvey’s. Clearly, Hernandez is not Harvey, but when looking at the Pitch F/X data, you can see what the Rays might like in him. Obviously since his prime, he has lost a lot of velocity on his fastball, but the outing did suggest that he got some of it back, and is at least throwing harder than he was in 2012. It is still solid fastball/sinker velocity that works for a right-handed pitcher.
I think he avoids the sinker/slider distinction, because, as he always has done, he prefers throwing the changeup more than the slider. One would like to see a curveball as an out pitch, but at least for his career, he has divided up his strikeouts pretty evenly between his fastball/sinker, slider and changeup.
The problem is that his change didn’t get much movement (5.8 horizontal 2.05 vertical not adjusted), and he left too many of them up:
86 MPH pitches (his changeup averaged 85.7 MPH) in the middle of the plate against big league hitters are going to be crushed unless hitters are just really off balance. Hernandez uses the changeup enough that hitters can expect it, it is not a pitch that he rarely breaks out and may be able to fool a hitter. This means hitters can sit on it, and if they recognize it, hit it hard.
Jeff Niemann appears to be headed to shoulder surgery, which one would assume would put him out for the season. However, the Rays have young pitchers like Chris Archer who clearly deserve a rotation spot and will take one as the season goes along. This means that it will be extremely difficult for Hernandez to retain a rotation spot. He will have to pitch nearly perfectly, and I don’t think he has the delivery repetition to do so.
Tonight, Hernandez starts against the Rangers against a good lineup in an extreme pitcher’s park. Location will be even more important than usual, as mistakes (as a national audience saw on Sunday as both 84-86 MPH fastballs by Jered Weaver and 92-93 MPH by Mark Lowe were both deposited into the stands. Rays’ Monday starter Jeremy Hellickson gave up back to back homers in his start against Texas) will be hit into the jet stream and out of the park. So whether or not he can repeat his delivery better than he did in his opener will be extremely important. I am also skeptical that his off-speed and breaking pitches are good enough to consistently get hitters out enough for him to stay in the rotation.