Monday, June 16, 2008

Livan on the Edge

Back on May 16, I posted an article titled The Truth About Boof, in which I examined the performance of Boof Bonser (who was then 2-5 with a 5.37 ERA) and Livan Hernandez (who was then 6-1 with a 3.90 ERA). The post came in reaction to cries for Bonser to be removed from the rotation, and my basic contention was that Bonser was not pitching nearly as poorly as his basic numbers suggested, whereas the opposite was true of Hernandez. I predicted that the numbers would start to reflect these truths as time went on, and concluded the post by stating "there is plenty of reason to believe that the hefty Cuban is due for some decline while Bonser improves, so one month from now I think we could very easily be hearing the same cries of outrage directed at Hernandez."

Exactly one month later, it certainly appears that I've whiffed on Bonser. He was demoted to the bullpen just a few starts after I wrote the article, and he has now been charged with earned runs in four of his five appearances as a reliever. I maintain that Bonser is not nearly as bad a pitcher as many seem to believe (through it all, he still has a 4.48 xFIP and his strikeout rate has been good since he joined the bullpen), but with his 6.45 ERA, it's pretty tough for me to stand by Bonser at this point.

Nevertheless, my remarks regarding Hernandez have proven prescient. He began a precipitous decline almost immediately after I made that post, and has gone 0-3 with a 9.38 ERA and .438 BAA in six starts since, allowing more than two hits per inning during that span while averaging less than six innings per start. Calls for Hernandez to be booted from the rotation have begun to surface, and indeed, that moment may not be too far off.

I can hardly feel smug about my prognostication on this one. To many, Hernandez's downfall was as predictable as John McCain starting a speech with the phrase, "My friends." Quite simply, Hernandez's strategy of not striking anyone out and letting opposing hitters hit the ball (and hard) was not going to yield remotely successful results for an extended period of time. No amount of veteran moxie or guile can magically cause batters to hit line drives directly at fielders. Eventually Hernandez's utterly hittable stuff was going to catch up with him, and it certainly appears that that time has come.

A stark parallel can be drawn between the paths taken by Hernandez this year and by another veteran free agent signing for the Twins from last season, Ramon Ortiz. Much like Hernandez, Ortiz was a mid-30s right-hander with declining numbers who many felt the Twins overpaid for. Similar to Hernandez, Ortiz got his Twins career off to a surprising start, going 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA through his first five starts. Yet, just like with Hernandez, Ortiz's luck quickly caught up with him, as he went 0-3 with a 10.97 ERA over his next five starts before being demoted to the bullpen at the end of May. Hernandez's success lasted a little longer, so the Twins are showing a bit more patience with him, but I can't imagine he's long for the rotation with the way he's getting battered in every outing.

By letting batters put the ball in play consistently, Hernandez has been living on the edge. After a surprisingly strong start, that strategy has stopped working as of late. There's no reason to believe it will start working again soon. So how long until Hernandez follows Bonser's fate?

9 comments:

RB said...

Have you seen the opposing batting average against Livan? Ouch! Awful.

Tricia said...

Do you think there's any chance Livan has any good games left in him. (I mean pitching for the Twins, not turning into an ace if he goes to pitch for the White Sox next year!)

Nick N. said...

Perhaps. He could have a few more starts where he gets lucky and holds the opposing team to a couple runs over seven or eight innings. But I certainly don't think we'll see any extended periods of success for him, considering that the league basically seems to have figured him out.

Ralph said...

Yankee Fan...

What do you guys think of making a trade of Melky Cabrera & Ian Kennedy for Francisco Liriano who hasnt been much for the twins and has been demoted several times?

Nick N. said...

I like Melky and was a fan of bringing him over in a Santana trade, but I don't think the Twins have much use for him now that they've got Gomez installed in center field with a long list of CF prospects in the minors. I'm not convinced Cabrera's bat will play in a corner spot.

Kennedy will probably turn out to be a decent pitcher, but he seems redundant with several guys the Twins already have, like Kevin Slowey and Kevin Mulvey.

At this stage, I think the Twins would be better off sticking with Liriano. It's not true that he has been demoted "several times," he was called up once this season -- ahead of when the Twins would like to bring him up due to injuries on the pitching staff -- and was sent down after struggling. Since that demotion, however, Liriano has shown steady improvement in his control and strikeout rate. I don't think the Twins have any desire to deal him at this point, particularly not to the Yankees after the way Hank acted during the offseason.

Ralph said...

well you guys do need a short stop what about alberto gonzalez and ian kennedy?

Gonzalez #'s arent anything to shout about then again he also hasent played much, but he has some pretty good defense.

halfchest said...

Ralph,
how about we get Cano for him? He's been pretty bad this year :)

Back to Livan though, it's getting to the point where I don't even want to turn the game on when I know he's pitching. What really sucks is that I have/had plans to goto the game next Sunday but with them moving Blackburns spot in the rotation Livan is scheduled to pitch. I'm not sure I want to drive 4 hours to watch Livan get shelled by the Dbacks.

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