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2021 Marlins Season Review: Elieser Hernandez

Evaluating the ups and downs of Elieser Hernandez’s age-26 campaign.

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Elieser Hernandez (57) reacts after giving up a solo home run to New York Mets right fielder Michael Conforto (not pictured) during the fourth inning at Citi Field Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Elieser Hernandez’s lack of durability and a vulnerability to home runs continued to be his two main weaknesses in 2021.

2021 Timeline

  • April 5: placed on 10-day injured list (right biceps inflammation)

Hernandez’s regular season debut was the shortest start of his MLB career in terms of total pitches (34). He resumed throwing within a few weeks, but the Marlins determined that the appropriate rehab approach was to have him build up his stamina from scratch, hence the lengthy IL stint.

  • May 18: sent on rehab assignment
  • May 22: transferred to 60-day injured list (right biceps inflammation)
  • June 3: activated from 60-day injured list

His second injury was, at least in my eyes, the emotional nadir of the season for Marlins fans. Hernandez had pitched very well through five innings in his return to the active roster. Don Mattingly made the surprising decision to let Hernandez hit for himself in the top of the sixth of a tie game, but he validated his manager’s trust by recording a leadoff single and coming around to score. Tragically, he hurt his quad while hustling to home plate. Immediately after completing his long road back, he was facing another extended absence.

  • June 4: placed on 60-day injured list (right quad strain)
  • July 31: sent on rehab assignment
  • August 15: activated from 60-day injured list

By The Numbers

Elieser Hernandez’s MLB career stats FanGraphs

It can be tempting to “take it easy” on Elieser considering the frustrating nature of his injuries and his humble roots as a Rule 5 draft pick. But his 2020 short-season success set the bar high, so I won’t shy away from being critical. This was a significant step backwards in his career.

Hernandez yielded 13 home runs, approximately one for every 17 batters faced. Baseball Savant classified eight of them (61.5%) as “no-doubters,” meaning that they would have gone out of all 30 MLB ballparks. This happened despite being kept on a relatively tight leash—even excluding his injury-shortened games, Hernandez averaged only 79.6 pitches per start. He is in the undesirable company of Ross Detwiler, Erick Fedde and Chi Chi González as the only pitchers to allow three long balls in a single game at LoanDepot Park in 2021.

Hernandez’s fastball got noticeably worse this season. Its velocity was similar to his career norms (averaging 90.9 miles per hour), but not its spin rate. He was in the middle of the pack in that department previously—42nd percentile of MLB pitchers in 2018, 48th percentile in 2019 and 47th percentile in 2020—before dipping to the 24th percentile in 2021. He compounded the problem with shaky command. After ranking among the league’s best with a 51.4 Edge% the previous year, he plummeted to a 41.1 Edge% (the MLB average is 42.6%).

There was a 28-point gap between the Venezuelan’s weighted on-base average allowed (.353 wOBA) and his .325 expected weighted on-base average. However, it’s hard to write that off as bad luck when his lifetime gap is 29 points, which is among MLB’s highest during that span.

To conclude this section on a positive note, Hernandez continued to deter would-be base-stealers at an elite level. No other right-handed pitcher does it better. Only two opponents even attempted to steal against him in 68 opportunities, per Baseball-Reference (one succeeded, the other got caught).


Will Elieser Hernandez Be Back?

The Marlins like Hernandez enough to utilize him as a full-time starter, but he almost always gets the early hook before making his third trip through opposing lineups. That kind of pattern generally leads to a transition to the bullpen. Problem is, his persistent home run issues would make him difficult to trust in high-leverage situations.

I think Hernandez has probably pitched his final regular season game for the Marlins. He’ll be more valuable to other teams than he would be staying in Miami.

He’s been directly involved in trade talks before, as Craig Mish reported at the 2019 Winter Meetings. Nearly two years later, the Marlins still have an imbalance between their pitching depth and hitting depth. They could trade from the former to bolster the latter, and Hernandez is a prime candidate for that.

That being said, there’s nothing pressuring them into specifically moving Hernandez. He is projected by MLB Trade Rumors for a team-efficient $1.4 million salary in 2022. And if the Marlins retained him but didn’t feel he merited an Opening Day roster spot, they would have the flexibility to option him to the minors until a need arises.