Saturday, September 03, 2011

Respect for Livan Hernandez

Mark Townsend over at Big League Stew wrote a great piece on the Washington Nationals' decision to shut down Livan Hernandez as a starter so they could evaluate what they have for young pitchers the rest of the season. For the Nationals, who have little to play for in September, this makes perfect sense. While this season is a wash, the Nationals do need to know where their future lies and let's face it, Livan Hernandez might or might not be thirty-six years old. What is surprising is the grace that Livan has displayed while taking this news.

Livan Hernandez has been the source of much ridicule in this space. Some of it was probably fair and in retrospect, much of it was probably not. The truth of the matter is that Livan Hernandez is not an elite starting pitcher. But that doesn't mean he has been an ineffective one. His 2.1 fWAR this season ranks him twenty-first in the National League. According to his fWAR, Hernandez has been more valuable than Ryan Vogelsong, Kyle Lohse, R.A. Dickey and Bud Norris (to name a few). 2011 marked the fourteenth straight season that Livan Hernandez has made at least 28 or more starts. That's remarkable consistency and durability. He's making a paltry million dollars this season and yet his pitching has been valued by Fangraphs at $9.4 million. In other words, the Nationals aren't just asking an old pitcher to step aside. They are asking a solid starting pitcher to stop pitching. Yeah, he throws an 84 MPH fastball, but so what?

The Nationals have no plans to pitch Livan from the bullpen. All they want him to do is mentor the young pitchers and take a turn pinch-hitting once in a while. Most pitchers would scream and kick at such a move. Heck, even his half-brother, Orlando, would probably kick at being asked to step aside like Livan. But if you read the "Stew" piece, Hernandez has an extreme loyalty to the Nationals and their GM, Mike Rizzo. He felt he was helped when he was young and he's willing to help others. For a guy who can still pitch to take a stance like this is refreshing. And this Fan accords him all the respect he deserves for handling this so terrifically.

For all the fun this writer has had at Livan's expense, this writer doesn't want to see Livan go away. There has been something quietly comforting in knowing Livan has been out there year after year making his 28 to 33 starts. He looks like a construction worker (no offense) and throws like a beer league player. But he competes and he succeeds at least half the time. There is value to that and as long as he's been compensated fairly, he's given each team he's pitched for their money's worth. Watching young pitchers and their 95 MPH fastballs develop is fun and exciting. But it's never comfortable. When that young pitcher has a hundred pitches logged by the fifth or sixth inning, it can be a drag. Watching Livan Hernandez pitch has been like reaching into a drawer for your favorite sweat shirt. It may not look good, but it sure is comforting.

Good for you, Livan. Much respect to you. But this writer hopes your days as a starting pitcher aren't over.


Chip said...

Great piece. The only problem is that I'm not sure it's fair to Livan to expect him to shut it down and mentor the young guys. He needs to pitch in order to market himself for 2012--unless the Nationals have an under the table to bring him back.

William J. Tasker said...

Oh, agreed. Was trying to imply that through the piece but perhaps was too subtle.