The Rays began life after James Shields in earnest with their first transaction since the big move Wednesday. The club is reportedly close to inking pitcher Roberto Hernandez — formerly and better known as Fausto Carmona — to a contract. Terms have yet to be revealed, but given his struggles the last two seasons — a 5.41 ERA and 1.8 K/BB in 202 innings — and his suspension for faking his identity, one would imagine the Rays’ commitment is minimal.
Just two years ago, though, Hernandez posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.11 FIP in 210 innings — a more than useful piece. The Rays will try to wring that value out of Hernandez’s current form, although likely in a different role.
Hernandez provides depth in the Rays’ starting rotation in the sense that he has an extensive history as a starting pitcher, but the Rays have much better options. He won’t crack the opening day five over Alex Cobb or Jeff Niemann. Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome all present more appealing depth options out of the minor league system.
Instead, expect Hernandez to fill the same role Burke Badenhop (traded to the Brewers earlier this month) inhabited last season. Badenhop uses his size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) to generate a powerful sinker. The pitch sits in the high 80s, but it absolutely falls off the table, generating ground ball rates above 52 percent in his five major league seasons. Note the difference between the sinker (gray) and fastball (black) here (via BrooksBaseball):
Hernandez is a similar pitcher in frame and style — a big guy (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), reliant upon a sinker to generate equally huge ground ball rates. Hernandez’s sinker has more power, sitting in the low 90s, with a bit less drop and more horizontal movement:
Badenhop was largely successful in his role for the Rays last year. The 29-year-old posted a 78 ERA- and 92 FIP-, mostly in low leverage situations (0.76 pLI, 0.82 gmLI). This, ostensibly, is the Rays’ hope for Hernandez.
To get there, he’ll have to tone down the walks, but his skillset fits well. Even as he struggled through the 2011 season, he walked 2.8 batters per nine innings and mostly struggled with home runs, an issue usually diminished by a move to the bullpen. The role also allows the Rays to shield him from left-handed hitters. Southpaws have a .351 career wOBA (partially powered by a 3.76 BB/9) against Hernandez compared to a .311 mark for right-handers. Badenhop faced 88 lefties out of 262 total hitters in 2012; Hernandez has faced more lefties than righties every season since his rookie 2006 campaign.
Roberto Hernandez isn’t going to be Fernando Rodney part two, breaking ERA records and setting the league aflame with his resurgence. But his sinker has always been a tremendous ground ball pitch — he’s never had a full season ground ball rate below 54.8 percent — and putting it in front of an infield defense comprised of Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist and James Loney seems like a recipe for success. It’s a minor move for the Rays to be sure, but Hernandez should adequately fill the hole opened by Badenhop’s trade earlier in the month.