As the Tigers continue to look for a veteran starting pitcher, it was probably inevitable that speculation about former 1997 Florida Marlin Livan Hernandez would arise. Dave Dombrowski has a penchant for the familiar, and Jim Leyland seems to have a considerable say in roster construction, and Hernandez is an older NL player. Throw in a glaring Tigers need and this was bound to happen. But it shouldn’t and I get the feeling this could be Jose Mesa the sequel.
What Hernandez has going for him is that he’s a workhorse. He’s amassed over 200 innings every year since 1998 except for once, when he only got to 199 2/3. And for a time he was effective. From 2003 to 2005 he was a pretty good pitcher. But he’s turned in an ERA+ south of 100 9 times while being above average only 5 times. And that was when he was a younger pup.
He’s coming off an age 32 season in which he only struck out 3.96 batters per 9 innings and walked 3.48. He allowed 34 homers last year. Granted, Arizona is an easier place to hit homers with a park factor of 115 (15% easier to hit homers there than an average park), but the other numbers don’t paint a pretty picture. His FIP last year was a replacement level-esque 5.73. And if you’re wondering about the defense behind him, his fielders were a hair better than average last year. Using PMR, they converted 6 more balls in play into outs than would be expected.
Even if Hernandez were to benefit from a less homer friendly park, that benefit would be far surpassed by the hit he’d take for moving leagues and for his continued aging.
I understand the desire for a solid starting pitcher, but Hernandez doesn’t represent that. That the Tigers continue to focus on aging veteran players from the weaker league is a concern, and this is yet another instance. If the Tigers are looking for this type of production, and are looking to save money, just hand the ball to Jordan Tata or Virgil Vasquez or Yorman Bazardo who I am confident could post an ERA north of 5 just as easily as Hernandez could. And those guys make the league minimum. If you’re going to balk at paying $10-12 million for a league average pitcher, then $7 million for performance that could be had for free should surely make you shudder.