Livan Joins the Mets

The New York Mets made early splashes this offseason by acquiring Francisco Rodriguez and JJ Putz to strengthen their bullpen. Omar Minaya then nabbed Tim Redding and Freddy Garcia to potentially fill the back of the rotation, and signed Oliver Perez to man the fourth spot. Which makes it particularly odd that they signed Livan Hernandez over the weekend to a minor league deal. The deal is worth $1 mil and another $1 mil in performance bonuses that obviously could not be earned if he fails to make the major league team.

Livan has the reputation as an innings-eater, which is what the media calls pitchers who log a good amount innings with no other real skills. For instance, Roy Halladay and Johan Santana are also innings-eaters but are never referred to as such because they are actually fantastic pitchers. Livan was never a fantastic pitcher, but, from 1997-2004, he had plenty of value. If his rookie season in 1997 is discounted due to a lack of playing time, and we instead look at 1998-2004, Livan’s 1605 innings pitched ranks second to just Randy Johnson. Despite all of the innings, he provided league average production with a 101 ERA+.

After the 2004 season, his modest strikeout and walk rates began to trend in opposite directions. In 2007 his rates had plummeted to an awful 3.96 in the K/9 department and a 3.48 BB/9. Due to the large amounts of innings logged his raw walk numbers always looked worse than his rates, but he failed to miss bats and became way too susceptible to hits allowed.

He signed with the Twins last season but was released after 23 games. At that juncture he had a 4.68 FIP and a 5.48 ERA. His BB/9 had dropped nicely to the tune of 1.87, but unfortunately his strikeout rate followed suit, falling to an abysmal 3.48 per nine innings. The Rockies, for whatever reason, thought he was a tremendous upgrade over Kip Wells and brought him aboard. In the eight starts he made for the Rockies, Livan posted a 2.90 K/9 and 3.12 BB/9, a 5.86 FIP, and an 8.03 ERA.

The only thing that has saved Hernandez over the last three years in the win value department is his durability. Without the innings, he has the peripherals of a replacement or below-replacement pitcher. All told, over the last three seasons he has posted win values of +1.7, +0.3, and +1.4. CHONE projects Hernandez to log 171 innings with a 5.21 FIP, which means a slightly higher FIP in a slightly lesser amount of innings. Should these marks come to fruition, Hernandez would likely produce exactly +1 win.

Relative to fair market value, the deal favors the Mets, because Hernandez can be cut if he stinks like he did with the Rockies. There is nothing wrong with giving a few pitchers shots at making the big league team on non-guaranteed contracts with invitations to Spring Training, but Livan looks way past finished. How he was able to pitch in so many innings with poor production is beyond me, but he will need to start missing bats to be anywhere near effective.

Color this analyst skeptical that this 35-yr old is suddenly going to revert to the 1997-1999 version of himself and make the all-star team. The Mets already have Tim Redding as the de facto fifth starter and Freddy Garcia signed a hefty incentive-laden deal to potentially compete with Redding. Do they really need a third horse in this race? Again, there is nothing wrong with this contract from a terms standpoint, but it definitely catalyzes some head scratches.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

9 Responses to “Livan Joins the Mets”

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  1. Frank says:

    This article begs the question: How has Livan been able to rack up so many innings while also being terrible?

    Don’t bad pitchers throw fewer innings because they need to be removed from the game earlier?

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  2. Eric Seidman says:

    Frank, it’s a conundrum for sure. From 1997-2004 he was good, however from 2005-08 he hasn’t been, yet I feel like he’s been able to stay in due to his reputation.

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  3. Carl says:

    I completely agree with your assessment but don’t you think you’re being a bit hard on the Mets (as usual). How is this not a good deal? You said financially it works out, and sure his numbers have statistically trended downward but couldn’t the same thing have been said about Mike Mussina before the ’08 season. Trust me, I’m not yet delusional enough to expect 20 wins out of Livan or even 10. But if Maine or Perez pull a muscle and need a month off and Livan can come in and get 3 wins in their place, then this a great deal. And every team faces injuries issues to their pitching staff during the course of the season.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Carl, I’m not necessarily criticizing the deal, and I explicitly stated that it is nothing but a good deal, terms-wise for the Mets. I just really see Livan making the team and hurting more than helping. Do you really see him not making the team in some capacity? If I’m the Mets, I’ve got Garcia ready to pitch as well as some young guys who honestly might be more effective than Livan even with the lack of experience. I feel like Livan makes some sense if you don’t already have Redding and Garcia, but you do. And I’m not overly hard on specifically the Mets. They have just made some silly moves this off-season. They’ve made some good ones as well, which I’ve documented here.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        And there’s a HUGE difference between Livan and Mussina. Mussina’s peripherals at their worst are still better than Livan’s at their best. Mussina’s 2007 was flukey for several reasons and I wrote them as such in this year’s Graphical Player book.

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      • I completely agree with Eric,

        Livan’s basically pitching to contact now. Lowest K/9 in the majors among qualified players last year. I know he’s only 35, but with a .345 BABIP last year, you have to wonder if there’s any truth to that number. I guess your “standard” analysis would say he’ll do better, but the increased HRs and serious decline in velocity into the low 80′s I’d consider serious red flags. I doubt he’s a guy you want on the mound next season, but stranger things have happened.

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  4. Carl says:

    I guess, but at this point as a Mets fan I am putting my faith (blindly) in their pitching coaches and scouts to determine if he’s performing at a level that will help us. And I haven’t looked closely at the numbers nor do I have the knack of it that you do, but I would wonder how huge the differences in stats are between Mussina ’06 and ’07 and Livan ’07 and ’08. Also considering Mussina was 40 last year and Livan’s listed as 34 (we could probably safely assume he’s closer to 36-37)

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Yeah, I have no problem whatsoever with giving NRIs to pitchers on low-salary minor league deals, but Livan really isn’t the kind of guy I would risk. Freddy Garcia is given his effectiveness prior to injuries. Same with someone like Mark Prior. Livan is throwing 85 mph, not striking anyone out, and he doesn’t have the standard movement, according to Pitch F/X that most pitch to contact guys feature. As David said, stranger things have happened but I just can’t see this working out… however, I can definitely see Minaya keeping him on the roster despite this.

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  5. EDUB says:

    I’d much rather have Pedro over this guy.

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