Opening Day age: 25 | Bats: right | Throws: right | Listed at 6-0, 214 lbs.
Drafted by Marlins from the Houston Astros in the 2017 rule 5 draft (December 14, 2017).
The Marlins rotation this season is a solid mix of young guys and younger guys. Elieser Hernández falls into the first category. The Venezuelan 25-year-old is expected to step up into a leader type role. He won’t be the only one, but he is the one in the middle of the rotation. His numbers have never jumped off the page...until last season. Hernández was putting up the best numbers of his career before he suffered a lat injury that prematurely ended his season.
The 2020 season was limited, but the numbers below show a couple things about Hernández’s last season. First, his earned run average of 3.16 over 25 2⁄3 innings was a nice improvement over past seasons. His WHIP was also among the some of the lowest in the league.
The second set of stats that jump out in the table are his walks and strikeouts per nine innings. Hernández was walking just under two batters, while striking out nearly 12. These numbers were not lost on Don Mattingly who wasted no time forecasting a 2021 rotation spot for him last October. Mattingly stated:
“The guys you can kind of pencil in are Sandy, Pablo and Elieser, who is progressing and is going to be totally healthy,” Mattingly said of the three right-handers.
“I think Elieser is another guy you got to say, this guy is kind of locked in…. In my mind — and obviously we’ll make this decision as an organization — but I think the first three guys you lock in knowing those are three guys we’ve seen a track record now. They’ve got experience. You are not going to say we need to develop these guys in any way.”
There are a few improvements that need to be made in order for Hernández to take the next step. Longevity in games has been a killer for him. Stamina is lacking, he has only pitched into the sixth inning in just five of 27 career starts. Innings are key, especially for a young rotation like the Marlins have. If he can continue into the 8th the pressure will be taken off the bullpen.
The next thing missing is Hernández’s third pitch. He has become fastball and slider heavy over the last two seasons. During the 2018 season, he threw it 15%, of the time. In 2019 his rate went down to 11.3%, and last season he only threw it six percent of the time. The changeup is being used minimally, and outside the strike zone a majority of the time.
Leaning on the fastball in the past has hurt Hernández—he does not have the velocity to overpower guys with it. After a hitter sees it two or three times they are ready to smash it. That is why an off-speed pitch like his change up needs to be used more. These adjustments all feed into his stamina and how long he will go into games.
2021 ZiPS projection: 4.68 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 1.28 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR
2021 PECOTA projection (50th percentile): 3.79 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 1.2 WHIP, 1.5 WARP
I am still skeptical of Hernández’s changeup. We have not been able to see how much he has improved it, but his spring training results were solid. Going deeper into games and utilizing that changeup must be top priorities. This season could be a big step for the righty.