Fangraphs.com tabs Livo’s performance this year as being two wins above replacement. That’s better than every other pitcher, starter or reliever, on the Nationals’ roster this year except for Jordan Zimmermann. Forget his own team, Hernandez had the 10th best WAR in the NL East. He would have nearly fit in as the 2nd or 3rd starter for anyone in the division, except for the Phillies.
His slow curveball gets laughs, but he’s been dominant with it all season. The advanced metrics rank it through his final start of the season as the 4th best curve in the majors, in the company of Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander’s breaking balls.
It’s easy to want Livo to come back. He wants to play for the Nationals, and he’s been very good for them. At the money we can guess he’s requested he’s a low risk. He’s even said he’s willing to be a long reliever. It seems pretty easy to project what you’ll get from Livo next year. Let’s face it: he doesn’t rely on speed or strength, which are the first things to betray an older athlete.
Of course, I am rationalizing the re-signing of an athlete in decline. At some point, his curveball won’t be as effective as it is now and his other pitches, which are already below league average, will only get worse.
As a fan, admitting when it’s time for your team to let your favorite player go is never easy. It sort of reminds me (in a very goofy way) of this scene from a childhood favorite movie of mine (check out Pudge Rodriguez’s awesome cameo). Nobody is advocating cutting Livo, but the Nats front office and Livo will have to decide when it’s best to part ways.
Part of the front office’s decision will be based on the view that they are a young team on the upswing. They need to find playing time for Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, John Lannan, Tom Milone, Brad Peacock, and any other young pitchers they see being able to contribute for years to come. But, it would be short sighted to let Livo go because he’s not in the plans for the far-distant future. Chances are they’ll need him and his innings-eating arm. The past three seasons the Nationals have used nine (so far), 14, and 12 starting pitchers, respectively. A team needs far more than the five starting pitchers that make up the starting rotation to make it through a season.
Hernandez has proven with his play this season that he deserves a chance to play somewhere next year. As a fan, I hope it’s in Washington.