Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hernandez Done in Colorado?

Livan Hernandez has now made three starts for the Rockies since being rather unceremoniously dumped by the Twins at the end of July. Forget about the argument over whether he should or not have have been signed by the Twins at the beginning of the year -- we've had that argument already. Far more interesting to me is whether any team should have bothered to actually pick Hernandez up when the Twins cut him.

The easy answer is to look at what Hernandez has done since joining the Rockies. Simply put, he's been miserable -- he lasted just 2.2 innings while allowing 9 earned runs in his first start, went 6 innings and allowed 6 earned runs in his second start, and yesterday allowed 6 more earned runs in 3.2 innings. That's an ERA of 15.32 in three starts. Based on that alone, the answer is clearly no.

Of course, that's the kind of "analysis" that I despise -- looking solely at the results doesn't tell you anything about the process that went into making a decision. Good things can happen to teams that make bad decisions, and bad things can happen to teams that make good decisions. After all, if there's a 99% chance that something will happen, that still means that once out of every 100 times it doesn't happen, and vice versa. In purely economic terms, the person who buys a lottery ticket made a bad investment whether he wins or not. This kind of analysis frustrates some people who prefer to look only at results, but if you don't analyze the process behind the decision-making you don't know whether a team (or GM or Manager or whoever) is consistently making good decisions or is just getting lucky (or, alternatively, if your criteria for evaluating decision-making is flawed).

With that in mind, what do I think of the Rockies decision to get Hernandez? On the one hand, they had nothing to lose. Hernandez didn't cost them a player (a far cry from the year before, when the Rockies inexplicably gave up Matt Macri in exchange for the horrendous Ramon Ortiz), and the prorated portion of his salary (a little over $1.5 million) isn't going to break the bank for a team. The Rockies felt that they needed a pitcher who would give them innings to take some strain off the bullpen -- and following the same logic that caused the Twins to sign Hernandez in the first place, the Rockies pulled the trigger and acquired a player with a reputation for eating innings.

The problem is that the Rockies must have ignored Hernandez's performance in June and July, when he had an ERA well over 6.00. Giving credit where it's due, Hernandez did go 6 innings or more in 7 of his 11 starts during that span -- but if he's giving up 5 or 6 runs consistently in those starts, how valuable is that to a club? Remember, the Rockies started August just 8 games back in an NL West that at the time looked fairly weak. The Dodgers and D-Backs have been playing better of late, but the Rockies are still just 9 back.

Believe it or not, I'm forced to conclude that this wasn't a horrible decision by the Rockies. If you look at the 15.32 ERA, and if you remember how harsh I've been on Hernandez and how vociferously I argued that his performances for the Twins weren't worth a damn, you might wonder how I arrive at this conclusion. Really, though, it's all about expectations and needs.

The Rockies should have expected Hernandez to post a 6.00+ ERA -- he'd been doing it consistently for two months. They could NOT have expected that in three starts he'd be as dreadful as he has been. The Rockies did not have any other options that could have been expected to outperform Hernandez (a significant difference with what the Twins were doing), and since they were down by so many games they had to take a chance that Hernandez would be able to step in and give them a chance to win some games. In fact, they did win in Hernandez's second start, when he gave up 6 runs in 6 innings. If he had been able to regularly post 6 run starts while allowing 4 or 5 runs, the Rockies may have been able to win some ballgames with him starting.

Somewhat surprisingly, then, I find myself in the position of excusing the Rockies. Hernandez was never going to be a stud for them -- but that's not what they needed, and hopefully not what they expected (there was some breathless chatter from the local papers when he was picked up, but I attribute that to media hype and not to the guys who actually do this for a living). Unfortunately for the Rockies, they took a shot and lost.

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  • At Sat Aug 23, 04:09:00 PM , Anonymous Marty Andrade said...

    In a vacuum, the Hernandez decision might make sense.

    However, you failed to note any alternatives, such as using a replacement level player to eat innings instead of an overpriced veteran.

    Instead of spending 1.5 million bucks looking to eat innings on a player projected to have an ERA in the 6.00 range, they could have spent the league minimum on some career minor leaguers who were projected to have an ERA in the 6.00 range.

    A look at their minor league affiliates shows there were people who fit that mould.

    You also didn't look at any players who cleared waivers who would have been available to the Rockies, any potential trade deals the Rockies could have made in their rebuilding year, nor did you weigh the costs compared to the benefits for a team like the Rockies spending money on washed up veterans late in a season instead of trying to invest that kind of money elsewhere.

    This is where your analysis falls apart.

    So yeah, if you selectively look at the deal en vacuo, it makes you look smart and understanding.

  • At Sat Aug 23, 04:37:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    Fair enough. You're right that I didn't conduct an alternatives analysis, and a rigorous examination of any issue requires one. However, I didn't have the time or the desire to comb through all of the possible minor leaguers and waiver wire pick ups the Rockies could have gone after, so I simply analyzed it as a yes/no on going after Hernandez.

    Simply put, a lot of what you say I didn't look at was either not possible for me to look at due to a lack of information or would have been prohibitive timewise. I have no idea what trade deals were possible, what players were available on waivers, where the Rockies minor league affiliates stand in term of service time and options, or any of the rest. In the absence of that data, a true alternatives analysis wasn't possible. I certainly could have looked at the costs/benefits of spending money on washed up veterans (something I generally disfavor, as I think you know), but that wasn't the main point of the post.

    The primary purpose of this post was to reiterate the idea that it's not appropriate to base a judgment on a decision solely on the result of that decision. Even if the analysis of the Hernandez acquisition was faulty (and as I acknowledged up front, it is) I hope that that point came through. If it was a bad decision to acquire Hernandez, it's NOT because he failed miserably, but rather because his likely value to the team was below his cost.

  • At Sat Aug 23, 06:41:00 PM , Anonymous Marty said...

    Okay, I can concede the "time card" and the "that's not really my point card."

    And you conceded my "true analysis requires comparisons of alternatives" card, so...

    I guess we're done here...




  • At Sat Aug 23, 08:28:00 PM , Anonymous TT said...

    Not only isn't Henandez done in Colorado, but the manager wants to evaluate whether to keep him in the rotation next year:


  • At Sat Aug 23, 08:49:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    Just an FYI -- I should have mentioned this in the article, but the title of this post was inspired by a Rocky Mountain News article with the headline: "Latest loss could be the last for Rockies' Hernandez." It also seems that the team was/is considering moving him from the rotation to the pen rather than just dropping him. I wasn't intending to be all that snarky when I wrote the title -- I was just going off of the headline from the RMN article.

    Thanks for the blog post link, TT -- I was particularly amused by the consternation evident in the author's post when he was talking about manager Clint Hurdle's discussion of using Hernandez next year, which was perfectly summed up by the line "You couldn't make this stuff up." That's pretty much how I'd feel if I was in the position of a Rockies fan!


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