Elieser Hernández could only watch helplessly as Ozzie Albies launched a 91-MPH fastball into the right field stands at Truist Park. He stood in a similar pose three innings later, as Alex Dickerson sent another 91-MPH fastball into the right field seats. The next inning produced a similar story, the only deviation being that it was Austin Riley who tattooed the delectable Hernández offering. Oh, and it was a hanging slider instead of a batting practice fastball.
Elieser Hernández has some ability on the mound. There’s no denying that. But that ability should be developed in the bullpen. It’s high time he’s taken out of the Miami Marlins rotation for good.
The 26-year-old Marlins righty has thrown 240.2 innings in his career. He’s given up a whopping 55 jacks in that span. He’s allowed 19 home runs in his last 67 innings pitched, dating back to last season (all as a starter). 35 of those 55 career bombs have come off his fastball, which is not very fast (18th-percentile velocity in 2021) and does not spin very much (25th-percentile spin rate in 2021). Guys are hitting .323 off it this season. They hit .354 off it last season. It’s a meatball, for lack of a better word.
His slider and change-up on the other hand, are not meatballs. Hernández’s slider is his go-to off-speed pitch; he generally throws it about 35% of the time. Hitter have always had difficulty hitting it, even though it has below-average vertical and horizontal break. But it’s 39.3 whiff % and .114 BAA in 2020 show that it is indeed a plus strikeout pitch.
The change is curious. He’s thrown it around 10-12% of the time during his career, mostly to lefties. You could make the argument he should throw it more, though. Hitters hit .158 and whiffed 33.3% of the time on it in 2021, both better figures than Hernández’s slider produced. Should he mix it in versus righties more? Whatever makes him throw less fastballs…
Too Much Sense
I’m not sure what the Marlins are thinking keeping Elieser Hernández in the rotation while a bevy of young, talented arms wait for an opportunity behind him. Who is Hernández? He’s a guy who doesn’t throw hard or precise enough to get guys out with his fastball, but who has two good-to-elite off-speed pitches. That, my friends, is a good recipe for a reliever.
Hernández would probably throw a tick or two harder as a one- or two-inning guy. So take those 91-MPH fastballs the Braves hit to the moon and turn them into, say, 93. That jump can make a huge difference in terms of keeping hitters’ honest, particularly on the inside part of the plate. This velo jump would also make his change-up and slider even better, due to hitters not being able to sit on them as much.
But wait, there’s more! Elieser out of the pen would have the luxury of throwing his fastball far less than the 50% of the time he’s throwing it now. He should be throwing his fastball about a third of the time at most, as far as I’m concerned. Throw a mixture of sliders and change-ups 60-70% of the time, get three outs, and call it a night. Jake Cousins of the Brewers threw his slider 61% of the time last season and put up a 2.70 ERA across 30 innings, giving up just 16 hits and striking out 44. This is an extreme example in terms of pitch usage, but the point is that Hernández would have a lot of room to adjust his approach if he only had to get three outs per outing.
Adjustments To Be Made
Truth be told, Elieser Hernández does have some experience as a reliever, and it hasn’t gone well. He’s come out of the ‘pen in 32 of his 73 big league games. His ERA is 5.96 in those games, compared to 4.45 as a starter. Still, I don’t think 32 games is a big enough sample to indicate that he doesn’t have what it takes to pitch in high-leverage situations. I think an organizational effort to tweak Hernández’s approach, specifically when it comes to pitch usage, could be massive for him. He’s had his moments as a starter, sure. But you can’t survive as a starter throwing one of the worst pitches in baseball 50% of the time. Like the title of this article states, Elieser keeps telling us who he is. He’s a reliever. Not a starter.
I hope the Marlins finally punt on the idea of Elieser Hernández as a #4 or #5 starter. Especially with a plethora of electric arms waiting in the Minor Leagues.
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