Along with their ability to generate pitching prospects seemingly at will, the Rays have become known for their ability to resurrect the careers of under the radar free agents. Players such as James Loney, Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney and others have all made their marks on the Rays after being brought in through such signings. However, not all of these signings work out. Case in point – Roberto Hernandez.
Hernandez has had an interesting year for the Rays, to say the least. Despite flashes of brilliance, such as his first complete game since 2010 on July 30th and coming an out away from a shutout on May 29th, Hernandez has put together a 6-13 record with a 4.87 ERA. Yet, in spite of his poor record and ERA, Hernandez has put together his best strikeout to walk rate of his career at 3.14, and is generating a fair number of ground balls, at 53.4%. Meanwhile, on the negative side, Hernandez has also given up 24 home runs in his 149.2 innings, with 21.2% of all balls hit in the air against him ending up over the fence, twice the major league average.
So, what is a pitcher that is seemingly an enigma like Hernandez worth? According to MLB Trade Rumors, Hernandez may end up finding himself with a bit of a raise from the $3.25million he is getting this year, as they expect him to earn approzimately $5million on the open market. That type of contract would put him in the neighborhood of deals signed by Chris Capuano and Kevin Correia this offseason, and would appear to be the going rate for an end of the rotation starter.
Yet, is Hernandez really a viable rotation option at this point? Only eleven of his 24 starts have been considered to be quality outings, and gave up five or more runs eight times. However, despite his napalm performance against the Red Sox on September 11th, he has been relatively solid out of the bullpen, giving up two runs in seven innings.
Perhaps this is what Hernandez is at this point – a long reliever that can eat up innings if the starter gets shelled or start the occasional game if needed. If he is able to keep the ball down and avoid the home run tendencies that have cropped up in the past year, as he also gave up home runs at an alarming rate during his three starts in Cleveland in 2012, Hernandez may be able to carve out a niche as a middle reliever, or someone that gets brought in to potentially get a key double play to escape a jam. In fact, it may be possible that Hernandez is only looked upon as a starter by a team without any other options. But is that type of pitcher worth $5million next year?
Roberto Hernandez may be in the midst of evolving into a useful part of the bullpen. However, that role may end up diminishing what he is able to get on the open market.