August 6th, 2009 versus the San Diego Padres: 5 innings pitched. 7 earned runs. 8 hits. Loss.
August 11th, 2009 versus the Arizona Diamondbacks: 4 innings pitched. 5 earned runs. 7 hits. Loss.
August 17th, 2009 versus the San Fransisco Giants: 5.1 innings of work. 6 earned runs. 11 hits. Loss.
These are the voyages of starting pitcher Livan Hernandez of the New York Mets. Signed to plug a hole in the starting rotation and to eat innings, Hernandez has done very little of either recently. The memory of his complete game victory against the Nationals has faded away like dust in the wind. Not counting this month, his record against under .500 teams is 5-0. Against over .500 teams? 2-5. In the last month, batters have an on-base percentage of .447 against him. Almost half the batters who have faced him over the past 28 days have gotten on base.
Is Livan Hernandez the worst number five starter in baseball?
Looking at his peripheral statistics, it's pretty obvious that Hernandez is barely above league average and he is only helped by a few quality starts against terrible teams. While his K/9 is up from previous seasons, so are his walks. He continues to struggle with giving up the long ball. This season he has given up 1.07 home runs per 9 innings. When he gets into jams with runners on base, he has difficulty getting out of those jams without runs scoring, stranding only 68% of runners on base. His contact rate is extraordinarily high. Batters make contact 91.1% of the time when he throws in the strike zone.
His BABIP is .326. League average is around .300 but there's two factors that play into BABIP: the size of the ballpark and poor defense. Livan is getting unlucky in the sense that the team around him plays mediocre defense in a huge park (the UZR/150 of the lineup that played last night: -40.2). His FIP (ERA adjusted with defense factored out and park factor added in) actually reflects this since it is almost a full point lower than his ERA. That still doesn't excuse him from the contact he is giving up. 26 hits in 14.1 innings is batting practice.
Livan Hernandez's effectiveness has dropped because there is very little difference between his pitches these days. An effective pitcher can change speeds and put hitters off balance. Hernandez can no longer do this. His fastball's speed averages a little over 85 miles per hour this season. Lack of speed is not really an issue anymore when pitchers like Tom Glavine and Jamie Moyer could stay effective pitchers with low-to-mid 80s fastballs. The problem is that Livan's changeup averages at around 80-82 miles per hour.
There is only a 3 mile per hour difference between his fastball and change up. Earlier in the season, when he was a little more effective, his change up averaged in the mid-70s. If a pitcher cannot change speeds, he is no longer an effective pitcher. The most troubling statistic of all is that the fastball and changeup are Livan's bread and butter pitches (he throws both of them more than 80% of the time). If there is only a minimal difference between his two main pitches he will get beaten up. The effectiveness of surprising batters with his other two pitches (a slider and curveball) is greatly diminished.
If Livan can readjust and start changing speeds again he could possibly have a resurgence akin to some of his quality starts earlier in the season. Until he does, he will get shelled like he has for the past month.