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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.