I'm going to talk about Livan Hernandez, official pitcher of Distinguished Senators, and happily enough I get to start by pointing out something foolish Will Carroll wrote. Carroll's column at Baseball Prospectus today (requires subscription, which means that bastard Dayn Perry gets some of your money) contains a list of pitchers whose strikeouts per 9 innings have declined from 2002-2004, which Carroll points out is a warning sign of imminent collapse (that's two Replacements quotations so far, BTW). Livan is on this list, which is kind of strange considering his actual K/9. Observe:
We have established repeatedly that Carroll lives in, or at least writes about, a world similar to this one, but with many important differences. Pete Rose manages the Las Vegas Expos in Carroll's otherworld, for instance. It seems strange, though, that Carroll's reference to Livan is accompanied by a link directly to his BP-approved stats, whence I got the above numbers. Usually the sane have to do a little thinking to penetrate Carroll's fantastical claims, but it was too easy this time. Mocking the winner of the Inaugural Will Carroll Memorial Nostradumbass Award is not the point of this post, though. Rather, it is a paean to the portly radness of Livan.
Livan Hernandez was the best starter in the National League East in 2003. 233.3 innings, 3.20 ERA, 155 ERA+, 55.6 VORP (more on that later). No one noticed, of course, but it was a remarkable, even miraculous season. Livan's 2002 was Loaia-quality; 216 IP, 4.38 ERA, 87 ERA+, and 2001 was worse than that. What happened? Apparently, Expos (and now Nationals) pitching coach Randy St. Claire worked with Livan on dropping his arm angle, and Hernandez' K/9 jumped from 4.7 to 5.8.
It wasn't a fluke. Livan's 2004 may have been even better than his 2003; he was not quite as effective but even more durable. He once again led the league with 255 innings 9 complete games, along with a 3.60 ERA and 115 ERA+. The only better pitcher in the division was Florida's Carl Pavano, and he left for greener pastures in the offseason. So will we have the best pitcher in this very competitive division in 2005? It's possible.
It would seem to come to three guys, although someone could always surprise us and have the season of his life. Besides Livan, there's Tim Hudson, recently acquired by the Braves in a trade with Oakland, and Mets free agent signee Pedro Martinez. I'm about to say something all controversial here, so buckle up: Livan Hernandez was better than either one of these jockjaws last year. The problem with evaluating someone of Hernandez' talents is that most mainstream pitching statistics that aren't stupid are rate stats rather than counting stats. It's easier with batters; you have rate stats like batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage along with counting stats such as homers, RBI, hits, etc. Pitchers have ERA and its smart-ass kid brother ERA+, but the main counting stats for hurlers are wins and losses, which are misleading and evil and I refuse to use them. Walter Johnson, for instance, lost 26 1-0 games in his career. Those losses certainly had nothing to do with him, but he was penalized for playing on a long string of crappy team. Who was better last year, 16-14 Randy Johnson or 16-9 Jeff Suppan? There you go.
A large part of Livan's value comes from his durability. His 115 2004 ERA+ isn't impressive next to Tim Hudson's 133 or Pedro's 125, but the extra innings (255 vs. 188 and 217, respectively) make him more valuable. In situations like these, I like to use Baseball Prospectus' VORP, Value Over Replacement Player. It's a counting stat without the statistical noise of wins and losses. Livan's 2004 VORP was 58.3, against Hudson's 48.6 and Martinez' 51.2. Based on last year's performance, Livan wins. That's not much to base anything on, though, so let's look a little closer (but quickly - this is already too long).
- Hudson is headed in the wrong direction. His strikeout rate was a career-low 4.5 per 9 last year, his ERA+ the worst since 2001, and he threw the fewest innings he's pitched since his rookie year. He's only 29, though, and he's about to be enfolded in the loving embrace of Braves pitching coach/demigod Leo Mazzone, so don't count him out.
- Pedro also had on off year in '04. His ERA shot up over 1.5 points from 2003 to 3.90, the worst of his career. Pedro's ERA+ went from a superb 212 to 125 (for comparison's sake, 212 is better than any ERA+ Sandy Koufax ever had). On the other hand, he threw as many innings as he had in five years. It's a safe bet that his ERA and his innings pitched will both go down in '05.
- Livan kept his Ks up last year, but his walk rate went from a career low in 2003 back up to his liftetime average, more or less. Of these three pitchers, he's the most likely to replicate his 2004 performance, unless all those innings finally catch up with him