I Will Learn How to Love Liván Hernández and Then I Will Teach You and Then We Will Know

I’ve recently been irked by this article, which seems to hold that fans who are “into advanced stats” can’t appreciate the abstract beauty of the game, or that such fans are unable to participate in true, scintillating arguments about baseball topics. It’s a tired argument that shouldn’t need to be refuted again. Even if there are such closed-minded “statheads,” if you don’t like them, don’t read their blogs, don’t engage them. There are enough baseball fans and websites that there’s should be conversation and internets enough for everyone. While there are plenty examples of statistically-minded baseball fans making fun of those who eschew advanced stats, I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a stat-fan who’d say that stat-haters are not fans at all, which seems to be something that is often argued or at least heavily implied in the other direction.

A player like Liván Hernández is, for me, one of so many examples of how looking at the stats can lead to fun and productive arguments. His stats can create any number of narratives, any number of discussions about the usefulness of stats, where they still fall short, etc. They can lead us to consider — in conversations with palpable friends over analog beer and under the analog sky — about the value of an innings eater, what makes an average player, what sorts of teams would most benefit from a guy like Liván this season — the list approaches infinity. Any of these would be a fun conversations to have, with real room for dialog and insight. I know that I have had many such exchanges with friends, and if there’s a “stathead” who hasn’t had the same, I truly feel sorry for him/her, but I suspect that such specimens are few and far between.

Whether you’re already starting to petrify in front of your basement-computer or need to have your MLB-video-archive-cherry popped, please join me now in celebrating a pinnacle in the career of Liván Hernández, one of MLB’s “lesser freaks” of the late ’90s and early ’00s. (Video after jump.)

Liván’s fastball never averaged more than 85 MPH in any season, but he threw five different pitches with regularity. He rarely “pounded the zone” more than the average pitcher (per Zone%), but somehow he walked fewer batters than the average pitcher and frequently kept the ball in the park better than the average pitcher (though not park adjusted) despite less than stellar GB%. He’s a great example of how stats sort of can but also can’t explain the success, failure, or, in this case, the very thorough averageness of certain ball players.

If you’re ever in Milwaukee, let’s get together and celebrate/discuss this.




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18 Responses to “I Will Learn How to Love Liván Hernández and Then I Will Teach You and Then We Will Know”

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  1. Dan Rozenson says:

    No, man — I think he’s right. I hate baseball. I didn’t even know PECOTA had anything to do with baseball … I just love the numbers so much …

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  2. The Ted, Section 437 says:

    The umpiring in that game still makes me cringe.

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  3. dan sefner says:

    I don’t need any convincing of the greatness(of his averageness). Always loved how he would throw a first pitch fastball at 83 and back of from there. Eventually ending up in the 60′s. Wiffle ball comes to the big leagues.

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    • Dan Rozenson says:

      I recall a sequence last year when Hernandez was on the Braves and he was facing the young Bryce Harper. Hernandez gave him a low-80s sinker that Harper swung at with the force of a lion and fouled it straight back. Hernandez’s next pitch, for strike three, was a floating curve that had Harper several miles out in front.

      Harper got the best of him the next time up, hammering a slider to right-center field for a homer.

      Baseball is indeed beautiful.

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  4. Kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Livan was nearly always above average when he played for the Nats/Expos franchise (2005 was heaven), so I loved the guy as a workhorse who could get the team wins even when the team sucked. Frankly it will take lots of math to convince me that Livan is not nearly hall worthy (almost a hall of famer)considering all those innings he threw in his career.

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    • Dan Rozenson says:

      OK, here’s some math. He should be really proud of his career, but he’s not even close to hall-worthy. His career ERA+ is 95, meaning he’s actually been a slightly below-average guy over the scope of his career. In Montreal he was quite good, but he’s been mediocre more years than he’s been good. His ERA would be by FAR the highest in the Hall.

      Honestly, the most impressive aspect of his career is his good fielding.

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  5. Big Nerd says:

    Livan the bench.

    That’s what I learned when he was on my fantasy team years ago.

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  6. Toasty says:

    Ugh. Why did I read that article you linked?

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  7. red says:

    i like the tao lin reference in your title.

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