Sunday, April 12, 2009

Livan Hernandez Hooks the Fish

Livan Hernandez began pitching in the Major Leagues in 1996 for the team he opposed last night: the Florida Marlins. Yesterday, he pitched more innings than he did in his entire first season; then he pitched just three innings.

The 245 pounder, who's pitched for seven teams, has been a consistent winner. Starting with the 2000 season, he has had double-digit wins every season. The most he's won in a season is 17. That occurred in 2000 when he was pitching for the Giants. Plus, he pitches a lot of innings. In eight of the last nine seasons he's pitched at least 200 innings. Last season was the exception: He pitched 180 innings.

The 34-year-old is mainly a fastball pitcher, throwing almost three times as many of them as any of his three other pitchers. Since the start of the 2002 season, 60% percent of his pitches have been fastballs; 21% have been sliders; 11% have been curveballs; and almost 8% have been changeups.

Last season was unusual. For the first time more than 70% of his pitches were fastballs, more than 10 percentage points higher than any other season over the past seven years. That's strange. Normally, as a pitcher ages his fastball starts losing its zip, so he relies more on his other pitches.

The most amazing statistic is that in his 13 big-league seasons, despite all the innings he's pitched (2551), he's made only 14 errors. And he's had 674 chances, which includes all his putouts, assists, and errors. The man can field his position.

Signing him might not have been the wisest move as Hernandez finished the 2008 season with his highest WHIP (1.67) since his first season. At the same time, his strikeouts per nine innings slipped to 3.35, the lowest of his career and far lower than his career average of 5.69. So he's now relying more on his fastball, striking out fewer bats, and yielding more hits and walks. Not a good sign for a pitcher in his mid-thirties. Yet the Mets decided to take a risk with him this season, slotting him in the fifth-starter role.

Last night, that risk paid off. Hernandez befuddled Florida's hitters, throwing pitches as slowly as 60 miles per hour. It remains to be seen how many more games he can win. If he can reach double-digits without his losses exceeding his wins, something that hasn't happened since 2004, the Mets will have gotten a good deal for his $1 million salary with up to another million in performance bonuses.

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