Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Livan Hernandez and the Middle of an Egg

Yes, that's an obscure heading, eh? It's actually an inside joke. Many moons ago, the Fan's son was going to bed before his first day of school. Perhaps it was the second grade or something. As was the custom, his father said a prayer with the boy and part of that prayer was that the boy would not have a mediocre teacher that school year. Before the prayer could go further, the boy stopped his father with a tug on the sleeve and asked in response to the word, "Mediocre," "Daddy, what does the middle of an egg have to do with anything?" Needless to say, there were no more prayers that night as the father couldn't stop laughing. And that's the story of the heading of this post.

Livan Hernandez is in his sixteenth season of pitching. Can you believe that? He signed with the Marlins in 1996 and got into one game with them that season. Hernandez then started seventeen games in 1977 and went 9-3 with an ERA of 3.18 and a FIP of 3.54. Hernandez then won two games in the NLCS and two games in the World Series and he was one of the toasts of the baseball world. Since then has been a long, long string of middle of the eggs.

The thing is, Livan is as consistent as you can get. Since 1998, he's never strayed with a FIP under 3.91. His ERA+ for his sixteen years is 96. That's about as league average as you can get. His won-loss record after all those years is 172-174. More middle of the eggs.

What is truly remarkable (at least to this observer) is that his current season (at the age of 36) is pretty much a replay of his entire career. No, the win-loss record isn't pretty at 6-11. But look at his peripherals this season compared to his career average (the first number is this season, the second, his career average):

  • ERA:  4.41, 4.39
  • FIP: 4.00, 4.39
  • WHIP: 1.421, 1.440
  • Hits per nine innings: 10.4, 9.9
  • Strikeouts per nine innings: 5.5, 5.6
  • Walks per nine innings: 2.4, 3.0  thus making up for a few extra hits.
  • Homers per nine: 0.9, 1.0
  • Line Drive Percentage: 22 percent, 22 percent.
  • Ground ball Percentage: 40.5 percent, 41.6 percent.
  • Swinging strike percentage: 6.3 percent, 6.4 percent.
  • Contact percentage: 84.9 percent, 84.6 percent.

This will be Livan Hernandez's fourteenth straight season with more than 30 starts. That's remarkable longevity and durability. His closest career comparable pitchers are John Burkett, Mike Moore and Camilio Pazqual. The last one is fitting as Pasqual was a fellow Cuban.  All three of the above had one very good year. Livan had one pretty good season. But all four had long, basically unspectacular careers. Livan Hernandez has never been in the top 20 in Cy Young Award voting. His rWAR after sixteen seasons is 27.7 and his fWAR is 35.8. So depending which system you go by, he's averaged either 1.78 WAR per season or 2.23. He's never been overpaid and has earned around $50 million in a career that has been worth upwards of $84 million.

Mediocrity isn't really a bad term when it applies to Livan Hernandez. It simply means that he has eaten up innings for every pitching staff he's ever been on and every game gives you league average performance. Oh, there will be clunkers along the way (especially if he pitches in Colorado) and there will be an outstanding game thrown in there from time to time. But there is something to be said for a pitcher that has lasted this long and been so consistent.


Navin said...

Nobody knows how old Livan Hernandez actually is. That's what amazes me about Livan Hernandez.

Jonathan C. Mitchell said...

Great read! Didn't realize he was having a season right in line with his career averages. Pretty neat nugget of info!