The MLB off-season is not just about the analysis of who your favorite team adds, it is a time to look back on the career of players that move on. The Cleveland Indians said goodbye to a number of core players from their last contending team. One of these players was starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez.
Hernandez made his MLB debut in 2006. He was jerked around by the coaching staff between the starting rotation and the bullpen. The Indians traded Bob Wickman, their closer at the time and decided to try Hernandez in the closer role. He had a disastrous week and was soon sent back to AAA and converted back to a starter. The idea was he might be a back of the rotation starter in 2007, where the Indians were hoping to contend after a disappointing 2006.
Hernandez exceeded all expectations by finishing fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting and was a 19-win pitcher (using B-Ref WAR). The one enduring image of the Indians’ 2007 season was Game 2 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees. Jacobs Field (as it was called back then) was infested with midges on an early October night. It clearly bothered Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, but Hernandez was not flustered and pitched an awesome game. The Indians would ultimately fall short of the World Series by one game. Hernandez did not have a strong ALCS, which was probably due to fatigue.
The rest of Hernandez’s Indians career was a quest to regain his 2007 form. One problem was everyone thought his best season was also his age 26 season when it was actually his age 29 season. Unfortunately, Hernandez will always be known as someone who forged his name and age to get a shot at the big leagues. He came under a lot of criticism and was suspended for most of 2012 and lost money on his contract with the Indians. I am not angry with him as I have no idea what the conditions were like when he was living in the Dominican Republic.
The Indians were supposed to follow up their 2007 playoff appearance with an even better 2008. Unfortunately, other than Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore, the team had a very sluggish start and were never in contention. Hernandez lost the strike zone completely and hitters learned that his pitches had so much movement that you can lay off anything that wasn’t over the middle of the plate because it would move out of the zone. It was quite a change from a Cy Young Award contender to an afterthought in one season.
Hernandez’s 2009 season was so bad at one point that he was demoted to Class A to regain his pitching form. He did work his way back to MLB, but he has not been close to his 2007 level, with 2010 his best year since then when he was basically a league average starter. Hernandez signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays this off-season. Personally, I will always be thankful for that 2007 season and I hope the Rays find something in him that the Indians couldn’t. He will benefit from a better defense in Tampa, which is a good fit for his ground ball tendencies.
I will always remember the Midge Game and seeing Hernandez making hitters look silly with that crazy 93-95 MPH sinker. I wish him all the best, but it was time for the Indians to move on as they have enough question marks in their rotation already. Do you have a player that your team lost lately that you know you will miss? If you do, leave it in the comments below.