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2020 Marlins Season Review: Elieser Hernández

The 25-year-old was one of the most surprising pitchers for the Marlins in 2020, but has lots of work to do to make it sustainable.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

We all saw a great jump in Elieser Hernández’s performance in 2020 as one of the Marlins starters during the 2020 season. Unfortunately, his campaign ended prematurely after his September 1 start due to a strained right lat, but what he did certainly impressed everybody.

Hernández’s MLB career stats | Baseball-Reference

There’s no doubt that, as long as he was healthy, Hernández was great for the Marlins this year. It’s true he failed to go deep in games, but what he did was unbelievable and somewhat unexpected.

The young Venezuelan righty finished with a 1-0 record and a 3.16 ERA across 25 2⁄3 innings. He allowed 21 hits, nine earned runs, and five home runs, besides giving up only five bases on balls and striking out 34 hitters. Those stats were good for beautiful 1.75 BB/9 and 11.92 K/9 ratios.

His BB/9 and K/9 were insane! In fact, Hernández was one of only SEVEN MLB pitchers (min. 5.0 IP) to register 1.75 walks per nine or fewer and 11.90 strikeouts per nine or higher in the 2020 season. Guess what? Elieser is the only starter on the list, which includes stellar closers Liam Hendriks (Athletics) and Nick Anderson (Rays). Take a look at it.

His K% has climbed steadily since his MLB debut, from 15.8% in 2018 to 24.1% in 2019 to 32.1% in 2020. At the same time, his BB% has gone down from 9.5% in 2018 to 4.7% in 2020. Those ratios make up for the fact that Hernández gives up 1.75 home runs per nine.

Another positive point when you see Elieser’s performance is his contact percentage. It went down for the third campaign in a row (74.3%) and his SwStr% also went higher than ever (13.3%).

His Achilles’ heel is his stamina. The 25-year-old never even completed six innings in 2020. His longest outing of the season came on August 11 against the Blue Jays, when he went 5 13 frames. In fact, throughout his career as a starter, he doesn’t know what getting an out in the seventh inning feels like.

From pitch 51 to pitch 75, opponents hit for a .318/.375/.455 slash line off Hernández. Based on his career numbers, his rivals slashed .321/.368/.679 when they faced the young right-hander for the third time in a game. These are the trends that explain why the coaching staff keeps him on a short leash.

Additional Stats

  • Hernández has gotten better results with his first pitch of every at-bat. Opponents used to destroy it, as they slashed .423/.423/.731 in 2018. Those numbers were slightly better a year ago, but really improved this season to .091/.091/.182.
  • The Cabimas native also got better against righties. His slash line against them went from .226/.296/.446 to .184/.245/.388.

High Point: Notching nine strikeouts in five scoreless innings with three hits and no walks allowed vs. the Braves on August 16.

Low Point: Exiting with the lat injury that eventually brought his season to an end on September 1 vs. the Blue Jays.

2021 Outlook

Days ago, manager Don Mattingly said Hernández was one of three pitchers to have secured a rotation spot for next year, along with Sandy Alcántara and Pablo López. That’s good to know, especially because the Marlins need to know whether this success of Hernández can be sustainable.

However, Hernández will have work to do in the offseason in order to build up for a full 162-game season. This could probably be his first campaign with 100+ innings pitched and 20+ starts in the majors. For him, this will be the biggest opportunity of his professional career.