Transaction Analysis: 1/27

BravesCenter Senior Columnist Andrew Bare discusses the Braves signing of Roberto Hernandez and analyzes how he, and his nasty splitter will affect the Braves bullpen.

Signed RHP/ "Free Willie" body double Roberto Hernandez

So aside from a year's worth of bad fat jokes, (Oh, if only the Braves had also signed Rich Garces!) what will Roberto Hernandez likely bring to the Braves? Well, Hernandez still brings his fastball consistently at around 97 MPH, and on a given day there's a decent chance Hernandez has his wicked splitter working. It's a fastball with less movement than Christopher Reeves, however, and on that given day there is an equal chance that all Hernandez has in his arsenal is straight heat.

This is shown by the rather alarming trend in opponents batting average against; by last year opponents were hitting exactly .300 against Robo. To be fair, that statistic is probably very deceiving. Opponents hit .346 off Hernandez on balls in play last year; the National League average in that same category is .288. (The Braves were at .270 in 2002)

Rather more alarming is the decrease in strikeout rate. It's fallen from 7.5 K/9IP in 2000 to 6.8 last season, though that number was up from 2001. On the other hand, his control has gotten very, very good, as he walked only 2.1 per 9 innings last year.

So, taking all of the above into consideration, what's a good idea for some 2003 numbers? If you'll allow me a rare, and you can be sure brief, moment of honesty, I can only say that I don't have the slightest idea. To be completely clear, I don't have an idea of my own. The good folks over at Baseball Primer project him for a 4.13 ERA and a 44/18 K/BB ratio in 61 innings of work. That strikes me as infinitely reasonable.

I can't, however, completely embrace that prediction. I had the opportunity to watch Hernandez pitch on many occasions, and I can't get over how dominating his fastball looked on most occasions. And there is the Leo Mazzone factor, which always has to be taken into consideration with any new Braves pitchers. If Mazzone can get Hernandez to consistently throw that dominating splitter, Hernandez-Smoltz can combine to be one of the more over-powering set-up-closer combinations in the game. That's a big, big if though. And I would be more than pleased if Hernandez managed to post a sub-4 ERA.

All of the above, in the context of the money he received from the Royals last year, or for that matter any guaranteed amount over $1.5 million, would make this a foolish signing. However, in the context of a guaranteed $600,000 contract, it's really an excellent bargain, and a low-risk gamble with a significant upside. There are incentives in the contract that can take this contract up to $1 million. They're incentives based on playing time, as MLB rules prohibit incentives based directly on statistical performance. However, it's reasonable to assume that the incentives aren't likely to be reached if Hernandez isn't performing up to par.

Andrew Bare is a student at the University of Florida. He spends most of his time worrying about the Atlanta Braves. He welcomes your comments at AndrewBare29@hotmail.com

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