Attempting to Understand the Roberto Hernandez Fiasco
By Robbie Knopf
Joel Peralta‘s 10th inning got off to a rocky start. He walked Dustin Pedroia on five pitches and Shane Victorino bunted Pedroia to second base. Then Peralta interntionally walked David Ortiz, giving the Red Sox two on with just one out. It was a major jam, but it was the exactly the type of situation that Peralta has gotten out of countless times. But instead, Joe Maddon did the last thing on anyone’s mind: go to the bullpen and bring in Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez gave up a walk and a grand slam to turn a game that had just moments earlier had looked like a possible start to a turnaround into yet another demoralizing. What was Joe Maddon thinking?
Why did Maddon take Joel Peralta out? Peralta is a pitcher Joe Maddon has trusted all season, through dominane and through struggles. Why couldn’t he escape a two on, two out situation? Was he hurt? Peralta did not exit in an obvious injury siutation, but there may have really been something wrong. On the game, Peralta’s average fastball velocity was just 88.08 MPH. According to Brooks Baseball, that is the lowest fastball velocity of any game in his career. Peralta has been overworked all season, and on Wednesday, he simply didn’t have it. Hopefully Peralta can be at full strength his next time out, but after he struggled the way he did, Maddon knew he had to get him out of the game. Peralta being removed was not a reflective of Joe Maddon’s belief or lack thereof in his abilities but was instead indicative of just how much of a red flag his lack of velocity raised.
Fine, let’s say that Maddon was right to take out Peralta. But why replace him with the failed starter Hernandez? The reasons were numerous. The Rays needed a double play and Hernandez is a sinkerballer. Last time out, on September 3rd, Hernandez was unbelievable out of the bullpen, tossing 3.2 perfect innings, and Maddon thought that Hernandez could provide lightning in the bottle again. And finally, all of Maddon’s trusted relievers had been used, and Hernandez was the closest thing he had to a veteran, late-inning arm. Would you have rather the Rays had brought on Brandon Gomes, Cesar Ramos, or Josh Lueke? Maybe they would not have allowed a grand slam, but the chances of any of those three allowing a run were pretty high as well. Maddon hoped that Hernandez could be dynamic again and bail his team out after Peralta came out flat. Clearly, he was wrong, but was that reasoning so bad?
The most perplexing aspect of the whole thing was not the decision to bring Hernandez in but the pitch on which he allowed the grand slam. Mike Carp‘s blast came on a Hernandez slider, prompting hysterics from Rays TV commentator Brian Anderson that Hernandez would go to his third-best pitch in such a key spot. Why did Hernandez and Jose Lobaton elect to go with the slider? Part of the decision had to be the element of surprise–Carp would be expecting a sinker, and Hernandez and Lobaton hoped they could get him off-balance with a breaking ball. In addition, Hernandez had just thrown four straight fastballs out of the zone. He needed to throw a different pitch and reset his arm slot, and Hernandez hoped his slider could be just that. And finally, it’s not like Hernandez never throws his slider to left-handed batters on the first pitch in general–Hernandez threw it to lefties 20% of the time on the first pitch on the season. The idea was fine, but Hernandez simply hanged it…that’s the argument, but it’s total baloney.
In Hernandez’s previous relief appearance, he threw a first-pitch fastball to lefties every single time. Why should he change that? If Hernandez wanted a change of pace, why didn’t he throw his better secondary offering, his changeup? Hernandez’s slider has the worst groundball rate and higher home run rate of any of his pitches. Why did he possibly throw it in that type of situation? It’s not like he needed to save the changeup for the second time through the order! Hernandez and Lobaton thought they had a good idea starting Carp off with the fastball, but the risk was so high and the benefit was simply a strike, making the gamle entirely nonsensical. Hernandez and Lobaton totally blew it and cost the Rays this game in the process.
Joe Maddon made a gamble, but he didn’t have much choice. Joel Peralta was ineffective and possibly even risking injury as he went to the mound with nothing, and Roberto Hernandez was the best option remaining in the bullpen. Maddon did what he had to do, and while it failed, his thought process was sound. Hernandez and Lobaton, meanwhile, have no excuse. They took a gamble that was set up to fail from the start throwing Hernandez’s worst pitch, especially in a situation like that. Hernandez and Lobaton’s belief that the slider could work is so outrageous to the point of absurdity, and their misguided thinking sent the Rays to another loss and Rays fans everywhere into agony. Don’t ask what Joe Maddon was thinking, ask what they were thinking!