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2007 Rotation Preview: Orlando Hernandez

Mike SteffanosTuesday, January 2, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

I had hoped to write a long post previewing all of the candidates for the Mets' 2007 starting rotation, but it has become clear to me that this week is going to be too hectic to allow me the time to write anything like that. Instead, I thought I would write a series of articles previewing each pitcher. I think we can assume that Tom Glavine, provided he remains healthy, will give the Mets a solid 30+ starts and 180+ innings. We'll concentrate instead on the 8 primary candidates for the other four slots. In alphabetical order they are Orlando Hernandez, Phil Humber, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, Alay Soler, Jason Vargas and Dave Williams. We begin with El Duque.

According to his official bio, Orlando Hernandez was born in October 1969 and has just turned 37. It's generally accepted that he is more likely to be 41. Despite his advanced age, Hernandez was terrific after coming over to the Mets, posting a 9-7 record in 20 starts with an ERA of 4.09. Even more impressive, he managed to strike out 112 in 117 innings. His fastball was consistently in the low 90s, and on days when he had a good slider he was a very good pitcher. When he lacked command of his breaking pitches, however, he often had a short and very unsuccessful night. Still, for long stretches of the season he was arguably the Mets top starter. Here are the numbers for 2006:

2006 Stats -- Orlando Hernandez
Team Starts Innings Hits/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA AVG SLG
ARI 9 45.2 10.2 10.2 3.9 1.6 6.11 .292 .545
NYM 20 116.2 7.9 8.6 3.2 1.1 4.09 .236 .404
Total 29 162.1 8.6 9.1 3.4 1.2 4.66 .252 .445

As previously mentioned, a 40-year-old pitcher averaging a strikeout per inning is fairly impressive. His walk totals were good after coming over from Arizona, and the home runs got much better once he escaped that bandbox. While the hit totals were remarkably low after coming over, he did give up his share of extra base hits, particularly in those outings where he lacked the effective breaking pitches.

I have to admit that I scratched my head a little over El Duque receiving a 2-year, $11.5 million contract, but when I look objectively at these numbers, particularly once he came here, I can't help but be impressed. In 20 starts with the Mets he averaged just a fraction under 6 innings per start, despite a couple of early exits. He held opponents to a .236 batting average in those 20 starts. Although he tired in August and required a brief hiatus, he came back in September with his strongest month of the year, pitching to a 2.01 ERA in 31.1 innings over five starts. He would have started the first playoff game if not for the freak calf injury.

Many play up El Duque's age, and that's a legitimate concern. I myself wrote a piece at one point of the season that I was concerned about El Duque's innings, since he had not reached that number in quite some time. After amassing over 400 innings for the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, here are Hernandez' totals over the next five seasons:

  1. 95
  2. 146
  3. Did Not Pitch
  4. 85
  5. 128

While it is extremely unlikely that the Mets would receive 32 starts and 200 innings from Hernandez, his strong finish to 2006 would indicate that it's not unreasonable to expect the 20+ starts and 150+ innings he contributed last season. That would be a huge contribution, particularly early in the season while Pelfrey and Humber are ideally getting some innings in Triple-A New Orleans and Pedro is rehabbing his shoulder. Moreover, I wouldn't bet against El Duque pitching in the rotation all season, with a couple of breaks.

Don't get me wrong. Being in my 40s, I understand that things can go wrong for an old-timer like Hernandez, but I think he showed a level of durability last season that makes his projection not quite as dire as some would have you believe. I'm looking for 28 starts and 14 wins from the veteran right-hander in 2007.

2007 Starting Rotation Previews:
Orlando Hernandez (This Article)
Phil Humber
John Maine
Mike Pelfrey
Oliver Perez
Alay Soler
Jason Vargas
Dave Williams
Rotation Preview Conclusions

2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (7)

fine....reduce my comments to one liners....just a thought maybe victor zambrano has a cy young year...sign him to the new orleans leveebreakers

n8genius - I was just teasing you. I think the Mets should try to sign Zambrano for some insurance.

I like this idea for your next few posts a lot. You continue coming up with an innovative perspective on Mets-related issues.

Anyway, as far as El Duque is concerned, I think that your prediction of 14 wins is generous. I think he spends some time on the DL and goes somewhere in the neighborhood of 9-5 in 20 starts. I hope that your prediction is closer to the truth, though.

El Duque is still a quality starter, but I wouldn't characterize his calf injury as "freak." I think it comes with the territory for a player his age.

If I ruled the world I would try to figure out a way to pitch Hernandez on six days rest while keeping the rest of the staff on a five man rotation. It would not be easy; in fact you'd have to screw around everybody else's schedule to accomodate him, and I doubt that would sit well with Glavine for one. But I believe that Hernandez would really benefit if he was alloted some extra recovery time between starts.

Something like that HAS happened before, you know; Bill James cited Whitey Herzog putting Andujar on a four man rotation with the rest of the staff going five days back in 1985. According to James, Joaquin simply couldn't handle the extra time off and was driving everyone around him crazy. Anyway he responded with a 20 win season.

Failing that, I'd just give him a couple of weeks off in mid-summer if the team could possibly stand his absense. You know, tell a player to not show up for a week or two; catch a concert, weed your garden, and allow some of the accumulative hurts and pains of the long season a respite from the grind.

No team ever does that sort of thing, of course, but I hope someone does, some time. It makes sense to me; I'd like to try it, and see if it would be beneficial.

Matt - I don't pretend to have a crystal ball, that's for sure. It's just a feeling I have. I think he has recovered from the injuries that cost him all of 2003 and the first half of 2004. I base this on his strong numbers in September. I think he'll need a couple of vacations during the year, and stuff can go wrong with a 40+ pitcher.
dd - I would give him a couple of breaks over the season even. Still, I made a guess based on what I said to Matt above. I think maybe I was a little optimistic, but I'm sticking with it. If I'm right, I'll take credit for being a genius. If I'm wrong I'll just hope everyone forgets. Isn't that how the "big guys" play the game?

Why leave out nageotte?

He's on a minor league contract, and I think he's more likely to be in the bullpen if he makes the team. I'll profile him when I do the bullpen.

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