David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

What Should Indians Expect from Roberto Hernandez?


Wednesday night’s game will be an intriguing one for Indians fans thanks to the return of an old (new? magically older?) friend: Roberto Hernandez, better known as Fausto Carmona. After being outed for using a false identity this winter and struggling to regain entry into the United States (the potential consequences of his lying on his visa form were far greater than most people seemed to realize), Hernandez will finally take the mound for the Tribe under his real name for the first time.

It will be nice to see Hernandez return, and even though the 2012 season is all but lost I’m sure most Tribe fans are very much looking forward to the pitching staff getting some much-needed reinforcement. But just what should the Indians expect to get out of their onetime ace?

A look back to last year seems a good place to start. Hernandez’ numbers were pretty ugly last year, as he went 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA. He struck out only 109 batters in 188.2 innings—with a 13 percent strikeout rate, it was though every batter he faced gained Joe Mauer‘s contact ability—and despite inducing groundballs at a 55 percent clip he gave up more than a homer every nine innings. Pitchf/x rated his fastball, his slider, and even his trademark sinker as below-average pitches.

Yet there were some positive signs. His aforementioned wormburning skill ranked third in the American League, behind only Trevor Cahill and Justin Masterson, and his 2.9 BB/9 rate was his best since his 19-win 2007 campaign. What’s more, he was plagued by an uncharacteristically high 62 percent strand rate (historically, only about 32 percent of baserunners he’s allowed have come home to score); the ERA estimators xFIP and SIERA put his true talent level at 4.17 and 4.18, respectively, nearly a full run lower than his unsightly ERA. Plus he managed to get on the field for 32 starts and came within a dozen frames of hitting 200 innings—that in itself is tremendously valuable.

What does that mean for 2012? Before the season started, RotoChamp projected a 4.59 ERA—right in line with his career mark—over 190 innings for Hernandez, while Marcel and Steamer offered similar predictions. Generally, the consensus was that Hernandez would throw somewhere between 150 and 200 frames with an ERA in the mid-4.00′s. Sounds pretty reasonable.

But those projections might not be valid anymore. First and foremost, Roberto Hernandez is not Fausto Carmona. A rose by any other name, etc. etc., but while “Fausto Carmona” was 28, Roberto Hernandez is just two weeks shy of his 32nd birthday. In baseball terms, that’s the difference between “just past his prime” (pitchers peak earlier than position players) and “career on the decline.” It’s entirely possible that a 32-year-old pitcher could defy the aging process and continue to pitch at his previous pace, but the odds of him keeping that performance up—let alone rediscovering the skills that once helped him to be more than just a back-end starter, the hope for which was likely the main reason why the Indians exercised his 2012 option—aren’t in his favor.

Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE

What’s more, Hernandez hasn’t had the usual opportunity to gear up for the 2012 season. He missed all of Spring Training and he’s four-and-a-half months late in making his season debut (funny how being barred from the country can make it difficult to keep up with the rest of the team). He hadn’t even thrown a professional pitch this year until three weeks ago, and he has only 24.1 minor-league innings under his belt for 2012. Not to mention that he didn’t exactly dominate the Single- and Triple-A hitters he faced the way a Major League pitcher should.

Where does this leave us? It’s hard to say, especially since contact pitchers like Hernandez are inherently less consistent than starters who rack up the strikeouts. His true-talent ERA is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.75 , though an unusually high or low BABIP (he’s experienced both) could push him pretty far from that in either direction. At any rate, it’s a respectable enough level of play for a back-end starter, especially considering that he’s seen as relatively durable and Cleveland’s rotation is in tatters, but it’s hardly cause for excitement.

Hernandez wasn’t as bad as people thought he was last year, and given the current state of the rotation any fresh arm would be a welcome sight for the Tribe. But while it will be nice The Artist Formerly Known as Fausto Carmona back in uniform, don’t expect much from him on the mound this year.

What will Roberto Hernandez' 2012 ERA be?

  • 5.00 (32%, 8 Votes)
  • 5.50 or worse (24%, 6 Votes)
  • 3.50 or better (20%, 5 Votes)
  • 4.00 (12%, 3 Votes)
  • 4.50 (12%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 25

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Tags: Roberto Hernandez