Reflections from a reporter born in 1987

A closer look at Livan Hernandez's performance

August 24, 2010 - 10:30 AM
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Livan Hernandez
Livan Hernandez struggled with his offspeed stuff and cost the Nats dearly last night. (Photo: Associated Press)

Livan Hernandez matched his shortest outing of the season in last night's 9-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs, managing to throw 121 pitches in the process (the fourth-most pitches thrown by a starter who couldn't get out of the fifth inning since 1952, when they started keeping track of these things). The performance was just another source of frustration on a frustrating night for the Nationals

"The thing about Livo is that he really needs that edge (of the plate)," Jim Riggleman said after last night's game. "And when he doesn't get it, that's when he has to work harder."

"I don't expect the umpire to give me a strike," Hernandez said after the game. "I expect him to tell me what a strike is." The phrasing implies that Hernandez felt home plate umpire Tim Timmons lacked consistency in calling balls in strikes. Is that true? Let's go to the chart.

One of my favorite go-to sites when watching a game is Brooks Baseball's PitchFX site, which provides a personalized strike zone plot for each pitcher that enters a game. Hernandez's strike zone plot from last night is here.

Not a bad effort from Timmons, as you can see. I count five balls that should have been called strikes, and a strike that should have been a ball.

So what went wrong for Hernandez last night? Well, if this plot is any guide, his offspeed pitches -- especially his sinker, slider, and cutter -- neither sank nor slid nor cut. Instead, Hernandez left them out over the plate, where they were duly crushed by the Chicago batters. Alfonso Soriano's third-inning triple, for example, came on a sinker left squarely in the middle of the plate.

Now, for some added fun, let's compare the pitch type chart above, to one from  Hernandez's complete game, 7-1 victory over Cincinnati on July 22. As you can see, Hernandez's sliders and cutters did exactly what they were supposed to do, exploding down and in to left-handed batters. That element was sorely lacking for Livo last night.

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