Position Battles: Mets’ 5th Starter, Pt. 3: Livan Hernandez

Now that we have covered the cases for Freddy Garcia (a former workhorse trying to get his career on track) and Tim Redding (attempting to make an impression with his 6th organization), let’s turn our attention to the man with a recent track record perhaps more dubious than either Garcia’s or Redding’s: Livan Hernandez.

Hernandez, who turned 34 this past week, has racked up an astonishing 2,551 innings during the course of his career. I described Garcia as a horse yesterday, but the Cuban-born Hernandez has eaten frames like few else since debuting with the Marlins as a 21 year-old in 1996. From 1998 to 2007, Livan topped the 200-inning mark every year, save for ’99 (he fell just short with 199.2 innings). His peripherals have never been all that spectacular (5.69 K/9, 3.08 BB/9), but his league-average innings-munching (4.44 FIP) provided a good deal of value to Florida, San Francisco, Montreal and Washington.

Since 2007, however, Hernandez has seen his K rate fall to untenable levels. After whiffing 5.33 batters per nine between the Nats and D-Backs in ’06, Livan posted 3.96 K/9 for Arizona in ’07 and actually saw that rate fall to 3.35 per nine this past season.

Hernandez’s FIP (4.94) wasn’t as bad as his six-plus ERA, but the 6-2, 250 pounder is clearly walking a tight rope. Relying primarily on a “fastball” with beer-league softball velocity (he threw the 83.7 MPH pitch 72.4% of the time in 2008, 5th-most among all starters) and supplementing the pitch with a soft mid-70’s slider (16.6%) and a softer mid-60’s curve (6.7%), Hernandez was by far the easiest starter to make contact with.

Opposing hitters touched Hernandez’s offerings 91.3% of the time, nearly three percent higher than second-place sinkerballer Aaron Cook. Splitting the season between Minnesota and Planet Coors, Livan managed to surrender a hit total that looks like a typo: 257 in 180 innings. His BABIP was .345, but Hernandez’s offerings are put in play so often that he’s going to be subject to the caprices of his defense.

Inked to a minor league contract that will pay him $1M if he’s added to the 40-man roster (plus $1M in possible incentives), Hernandez is assured nothing from the club, nor should he be at this point in his lengthy career. Livan has had a durable, productive stay in the majors, but his days as anything more than a replacement-level arm are likely over.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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