Yesterday, Brad Hand faced the Colorado Rockies and did not get very far for the Miami Marlins. The lefty threw just 4 1/3 innings, gave up four runs, and walked and struck out three batters. The performance was a poor one, and he was pulled early for Brad Penny, the team's new long relief option.
Hand's season numbers now are not impressive. He boasts a 4.71 ERA and 4.76 FIP, and that comes on the back of very typical strikeout and walk rates for him. In 168 1/3 scattered innings in his career, most of them coming either this season or in 2011, he has displayed a 14.6 percent strikeout rate and an 11.4 percent walk rate. Neither of those numbers are good for a pitcher in the Majors.
Some time ago, Hand returned to the Marlins' rotation after a series of events forced the team's hand, or so they believed. Andrew Heaney did not perform well in terms of ERA in his first four big league starts and was demoted, even though the numbers suggested he would do a better job in the Majors going forward. Hand took over a rotation spot in July and had a great month, putting up a 2.70 ERA and a 2.97 FIP.
The Marlins saw that great performance and became confident in Hand earning a rotation spot. When the team acquired Jarred Cosart, it had to demote someone from the rotation, and that someone turned out to be Jacob Turner. When Henderson Alvarez got hurt, Miami gave Turner one more start before designating him for assignment and trading him to the Chicago Cubs. They then turned to Brad Penny for two starts before demoting him to long relief after Alvarez returned.
The Marlins just made a series of pitching transactions surrounding Brad Hand, and all of them have somehow kept an overmatched pitcher in the starting rotation. Hand's one fortuitous month was good, but it also was not indicative of future performance. Take a look at his peripherals for each month as a starter.
The bolded number shows exactly why Hand was good in July. He allowed no home runs that month, which goes a long way towards preventing runs. But realistically, just how often is a pitcher like Hand, who owns a career 40.3 percent ground ball rate, going to not allow a homer? Prior to that month, Hand's history as a starter was very bleak, and even after that one month hot streak, the Marlins pitcher has just a 4.85 ERA and 5.26 FIP for his career as a starter.
Now, think about how many moves were made to accommodate Hand staying in the rotation and on the roster. Hand, like Turner, had no options left heading into the season. The Marlins rightfully passed on trading him or releasing him for nothing before the season, given that he had little trade value and could be used out of the bullpen in a long relief role. But when he was shoved into the rotation and struggled, Miami quickly pulled the plug.
Flash forward a few months later and Hand suddenly found himself with a job again. Heaney was demoted fairly unnecessarily, and Hand put up a good month that was based on 36 innings of good home run fortune. But because of the timing of that fortune, Miami chose to give him the roster spot despite this comparison between him and Turner.
That picture shows that Turner has done the things that pitchers have the most control over better than Hand over the course of the season. But since Hand happened to play well right before the trade deadline, his roster spot was secure. Instead, Turner's roster spot was sacrificed to Penny, only for Penny to take the long relief role after just two starts.
Hand has been fortunate that the Marlins gave up on Heaney as a big leaguer in 2014, despite his recent checkup looking promising. He was lucky that his best month as a pro came right before the trade deadline, which kept his good performance in the minds of the team thanks to recency. He was lucky because that month was based on not allowing a single home run in 36 innings. He was lucky that Miami had no clue how to maneuver its roster to make room for Penny, or that the team even wanted Penny, a clearly inferior alternative to Hand, at all.
A number of circumstances surrounding Brad Hand have led to him having a rotation spot on a team that is trying to make the playoffs, and Hand aided those circumstances with 36 innings of illusion. After all of this, Hand owns a 4.82 ERA and 4.68 FIP as a starter in 2014. Somehow, that kind of performance with no options remaining has secured him a rotation spot likely until the end of the year, while it has cost the Marlins a younger player with better pedigree and led to the demotion of a top pitching prospect who is as about as ready as a prospect can be. Hand may not be a magician on the field, but he has certainly tricked plenty of folks in Miami.