Livan Hernandez holds a special place in the hearts and history of the Washington Nationals. He pitched our first game as a franchise. He’s been our opening day starter four times (including in 2011). And he continues to pitch reasonably well despite a fastball that’s barely good enough for some adult leagues in the area. He’s on an incredibly cheap contract for a veteran of his capabilities ($1M base for 2011 with some performance bonuses) and you know pretty much what you get from him year-to-year (roughly a .500 record, roughly 9 to 12 wins, a career 4.37 era). From a salary perspective, he’s one of the best FA bargains out there (assuming he ends the season with 8 wins, a FA figure of $125,000 per win is fantastic in an age when teams try to get FA pitching at $1m/win. See my “Contract value for FA pitcher” post from last October, which I’ll update this off season with 2011’s season results and new signings).
However, in the 2nd half his “mood swings” on the mound have become problematic. His starts dating to May 30th he’s as likely to give up 2 runs in 7 innings as he is to give up 6 in 5. In my trends his line reads basically good-bad-good-bad-good-bad. In all these games lately where he’s given up a large parcel of runs, it is in fewer than 5 innings pitched, meaning the game is basically out of hand before it is halfway done and the bullpen has to pick up a hefty workload of 4-5 innings each time. The team today has essentially announced that after his Sunday 9/4 start he’s being shut down for the season, in favor of younger pitchers (read, Brad Peacock).
The answer however may have come to the team almost by accident on 8/30. In a post-game interview after beating the Braves, Livan mentioned more or less that:
- He wants to stay with the team (… of course, every veteran FA says this. Its on page one of the FA-to-be playbook).
- He’s willing to be a long reliever, knowing the team has a ton of young starters coming in.
Really? A guy who hasn’t missed a start since he got into the league is willing to be a long-man/spot starter on this team? If that’s the case then I’m 100% for bringing him back. In this scenario:
- Johnson has his long-man out of the pen that he really hasn’t had all season (Gorzelanny may seem like he fits the bill, but clearly the team is down on him).
- Livan can compete for a starter role in the spring and may very well earn a spot on merit anyway.
- He’s great backup insurance for the inevitable injuries and spot starts.
- He’ll be cheap; he was on $1M this year and probably won’t be much more expensive next year (for comparison purposes, Todd Coffey earned 1.35M this year and was so bad that we couldn’t even flip him at the trade deadline for a low minor leaguer).
I think Livan can effectively fill the Miguel Batista role of 2010, a role that this team never really replaced for the 2011 season. And his veteran presence in the clubhouse and bullpen. I hope he stays around.