With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time where we go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this past season.
Today, we look at relief pitcher Jonathan Hernandez.
So, we can just cut and paste the writeup for Jose Leclerc and use it for Jonathan Hernandez, right? Good young hardthrowing righty reliever, missed all of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery, came back mid-season in 2022, had some issues but overall looks good for the 2023 season, right?
Part of what is interesting about the Hernandez/Leclerc combo, though, is the contrast that they offer. Leclerc is a high spin rate four seam guy who works up in the zone with his fastball and succeeds by getting strikeouts and a bunch of popups. Hernandez, on the oher hand, throws a two seamer and works down in the zone — if Hernandez throws a pitch up, he probably fucked up.
Hernandez, like Leclerc, has a three pitch mix he uses — he isn’t reliant on just two pitches like many relievers. Hernandez goes mostly sinker/slider against righthanders, spotting his changeup occasionally. Against lefties, though, he leans heavily on his changeup — he actually threw the change more often against lefties than he did his sinker, at 38.4% and 34.8%, respectively, while going with his slider 26.8% of the time against lefties.
Hernandez’s slider is his money pitch, and he was insanely successful with it in 2022. Jonathan Hernandez threw his slider 185 times in 2022, and allowed just two — TWO!!! — hits off of it, a single and a double. He allowed just a .118 wOBA off of his slider, and while the xwOBA was higher — it almost has to be, right? — at .169, it was still pretty damn impressive.
And this isn’t really a fluke. Hernandez allowed a .209 wOBA and .182 xwOBA off of his slider in 2020, and .156/.165 in 2019. That’s crazy good.
Unfortunately, the changeup and sinker weren’t at that level in 2022. His changeup was fine, generally — .299 wOBA and .293 xwOBA — which is also in line with his changeup in 2019. However, when Hernandez was dominating in 2020, his changeup was well nigh untouchable. Hernandez threw 64 changeups in 2020 and allowed nary a single hit off of it, with a .046 wOBA and a .081 xwOBA. Of course, the feel for the changeup often takes longer to come back after TJS, so that will be something to keep an eye on in 2023 with Hernandez.
Hernandez’s bigger issue in 2022 was with his sinker. Sinkers are not, generally, swing-and-miss pitches, so the fact he didn’t get a lot of Ks with it (just 8 at bats ended in sinkers for strikeouts) isn’t that big a deal, necessarily. Batters did put up a .386 wOBA and a .413 xwOBA off of his sinker, though.
Hernandez took a little longer than expected to get back with the big league club in 2022 — he didn’t begin his rehab assignment until the beginning of June, and wasn’t activated and added to the big league roster until mid-July — but when he did get called up, he put up a 2.97 ERA in 30.1 innings over 29 appearances. That was almost identical to what he did in 2020 (2.90 ERA in 31 IP over 27 appearances).
The underlying numbers for Hernandez, though, were weaker in 2022 than when he had his 2020 breakout season. After putting up a 2.64 xERA and a 3.19 FIP in 2020, Hernandez had a much more pedestrian 4.08 xERA and 3.97 FIP in 2022. The culprit was too many walks — while his HR/9 rate stayed static and his K rate dropped slightly, his walk rate ballooned. After walking 6.4% of the batters he faced in 2020, Hernandez more than doubled that rate in 2022 with 13%.
That said, the walk problems stem largely from a particularly problematic stretch in early September. He walked three batters in a 0.1 IP, four run outing against Boston on September 1, then walked five batters in his next three outings. In that four game stretch, he walked eight of 26 batters he faced. He walked nine of 105 batters faced in his other major league appearances. So perhaps this is something to be chalked up to mechanics getting out of whack or something.
Hernandez made it back from Tommy John surgery in 2022, got back on a major league mound, and showed he was healthy. Now, it is a matter of seeing if he can get back to being the guy we saw in 2020 — someone who can be a dominant late inning reliever.