The Dodgers acquired veteran Catcher Ramon Hernandez this weekend from Colorado, in exchange for right handed starter Aaron Harang, and some cash. It is expected that when Chad Billingsley is ready to come off of the disabled list, which will be Wednesday, Hernandez will be the back-up catcher to A.J. Ellis, and Tim Federowicz will be sent back down to Albuquerque. The Dodgers felt they were a little thin in the catcher position, and wanted to secure some veteran depth. They also needed to dump Harang, who had no role, and was just sitting in the Dodger bullpen not pitching.
That’s a move that all of us fully expect to happen after the Dodgers play a three game series in San Diego, and it’s a move that most of us don’t really like much. Coming into the season we expected for rookie Federowicz, or Fedex as he is called by many, to start the season as A.J. Ellis’s backup catcher on the bench. He even made the opening day roster! He had made it. Now it seems like he is once again blocked by another old and busted veteran catcher who can’t hit anymore. If you remember, Last season he was blocked by the useless Matt Treanor.
Losing Fedex to another lousy over the hill veteran is annoying, but what exactly will we be getting from Hernandez?
That’s the question I wanted to know, so I turned to Roxpile.com editor Hayden Kane for more information on our newest Dodger scrubbie. Hayden was very happy to answer some of my questions about Hernandez and whatever he has left in the tank.
Hernandez only played in about 50 games last season for Colorado, so I knew Hayden probably hadn’t had much time to make a judgment on his abilities. However I figured he would be able to provide some kind of useful information, since he has at the least seen him play more than we have.
We haven’t really seen Hernandez since his days with the Reds. Hernandez is a 36 year old catcher from Venezuela. He turns 37 in May, and has played for five teams over the course of his 15 year career. He was originally signed by Oakland as an amateur free agent back in 1999. Hernandez has posted a career .264 batting average, with a .327 OBP. He has a career .744 OPS, and has hit 166 home runs in 5,647 plate appearances over 1,500 games. Hernandez was once an all-star in 2003, and has had two seasons of 20+ home runs.
Over the last few seasons he has been relegated into a backup mentoring type role, but he had some decent seasons with the Reds. It’s always seemed he has been able to hit well over the years. However last season he struggled with Colorado and only played in 52 games because of various hand, and hamstring injuries. Hernandez batted .217 with five home runs, and 28 RBI in 196 plate appearances in Colorado last season. He only drew six walks, and posted a really bad .247 OBP.
According to Hayden, His bat looked slow and his feet looked even slower. Not a good observation there. You know what they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and Hernandez definitely made a bad impression in Colorado. The Rockies had singed Hernandez to a one-year 3.2 million dollar contract. Hayden stated, they had brought him in to mentor young catcher Wilin Rosario. Once Colorado re-acquired Yorvit Torrealba, who returned to Colorado, they felt they didn’t need Hernandez, and wanted salary relief. So they dumped him on the Dodgers for Harang, and then turned around and immediately designated the Big Show for Assignment.
So we always knew Hernandez could hit over the years, but what are we getting defensively from Hernandez?
I asked Hayden about that and he stated that his game-calling and leadership skills are his strengths. I guess that’s good, but what about his blocking the plate skills? What about his throwing arm? I took a look at his defensive metrics.
According to the numbers, Hernandez has regularly posted above average defense behind the plate. As a matter of fact, his defensive career metrics, are fairly solid. Last season he was merely barely above average, but over his career, he has posted a .990 fielding percentage, and a +23 runs above average rating. Those are pretty good numbers. He doesn’t allow many passed balls either. After a career high of 13 passed balls back in 2006 when he was in Baltimore, he has averaged about two or three over the last four or five years. OK so he can call a good game, and has decent hands. But can he throw anyone out?
Actually looking at the numbers, Hernandez has had a very strong throwing arm over the years. He has been cutting down would be base-stealers at a very strong clip. He has averaged a 30% clip (344 for 786) over his career, and while he only threw out runners at a 25% clip last season, in 2011 he threw out base-stealers at a very impressive 37% clip. I attribute that to being healthy in 2011. A.J. Ellis throws out runners at about a 33% clip, so Hernandez’s arm can be just as good. That at least makes me feel a little bit better about the trade. Hernandez has actually reached 40% in two seasons. However he has thrown out runners at a 34% clip or more in three of the last four seasons.
Defensively he has some experience playing at first base. In 45 career games at the position, Hernandez has posted a -4 runs below average rating, but has only played in seven games there since 2010. Hernandez has also played one inning at third base. He actually played 19 games at third base in the minors, but don’t expect him to ever play there ever again.
Hernandez made his Dodger debut on Sunday against the Pirates and struck out in his only plate appearance. The Dodgers could have very easily just designated him for assignment, like Colorado did with Harang, and use his roster spot on someone else. But that’s not what the Dodgers do.
We know he can catch and throw, and call a good game, but whether he can hit again remains to be seen. He was fairly productive in his early seasons, but he seems to be in decline. I just hope we can get something out of him, otherwise it makes keeping him over Fedex pointless. Although he’ll probably fit in just fine with the rest of the no-bats on the Dodger bench.
During his all-star season with Oakland back in 2003, Hernandez batted .273 and hit 21 home runs, and drove in 78 RBI in 140 games, and 540 plate appearances. It’s been all downhill since then for him. Can Hernandez regain some of that form? I wish him success with the Dodgers, but if he can’t hit, or provide any sort of offensive production, then there is no point in using him on the roster over Fedex. Having a third veteran catcher dooms poor Fedex back to the minors, and we don’t want the Dodgers getting older, we want the Dodgers to get younger.
The jury will be out on Hernandez for a while. Just how old and busted Ramon Hernandez truly is remains to be seen.