Jonathan Hernandez will be a very important member of the bullpen this season. Will he be the closer? That is yet to be determined. The Texas Rangers will need to have a strong bullpen to make the playoffs this season. The most important pieces will likely be those players that pitch in the late innings. So many one-run losses in 2022 and some of that was due to runs given up by the back of the bullpen late in games. 26-year-old Jonathan Hernandez is now almost 24 months removed from having Tommy John surgery and if he can return to his 2020 form he will help lock down those late innings. Hernandez has the best stuff of anyone in the bullpen and when he has command of his pitches he can be nearly unhittable. There are a few benchmarks that if Hernandez hits them will put the Rangers into the playoff race. In the 3rd part of this series, we will look at what Jonathan Hernandez can do this upcoming season to help make the Rangers playoff contenders
Jonathan Hernandez can help make the Rangers playoff contenders if ...
If Hernandez can lock down10 or more saves, allow batters a .200 batting average against, and have a 4 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The 10 or more saves might be difficult. Heading into Spring Training there has been no indication of who the closer will be. Early in the season, it could be a closer-by-committee approach to see if someone really stands out amongst the group. If Hernandez is the one who emerges with the job and he can get 10 or more saves it means that the closer role has been locked down. Hernandez does have experience in the closer's role. In 2022 he finished 16 games and saved four. He doesn't have the extensive experience that Jose Leclerc has, but he has the ability. He just needs the opportunity to grow into the role. The Texas Rangers will need someone to step up and take charge in that role early. They need to get off to a good start maybe more than any other team in the league. Hernandez is someone that will not be intimidated by closing out games.
The next benchmark is allowing a .200 batting average against. If Hernandez can do that it means that he is having success keeping guys off base and limiting the damage that hitters can do.. In 2020 batters hit .218 against Hernandez. If you break that down between left handers and right-handers, he allowed right-handers a .200 batting average and left-handers a .244 batting average against. If he can get lower that number against righties and lefties he can get close to that .200 batting average against.
For Hernandez success in this category will come down to pitch selection. According to Hernandez's baseball savant page, the past two seasons he has been healthy, 2022 and 2020, he threw his sinker more than any other pitch. He throws his slider second most often. It was 42% sinkers to 36% sliders in 2022 and 47% to 39.8 % in 2020. If you look at the numbers though he has far more success with the slider. Batters in 2022 had a .300 batting average, a .440 slugging percentage, and struck out 12.9% of the time against Hernandez's sinker. That seems to be pretty good.
Batters in 2022 had a .061 batting average, a .091 slugging percentage, and struck out 33.3% of the time against his slider. His slider is dominant. It feels like the sinker is the pitch he feels most comfortable throwing. Mike Maddux and a new coaching staff will look at those numbers and examine whether it is worthwhile to flip those percentages and have him throw his slider more and use his sinker as his secondary pitch. The numbers are so drastically different that it does seem like they might look into his pitch selection and see if they can improve his numbers against the sinker by throwing it less and using that slider to be his dominant pitch.
The final goal for Jonathan Hernandez to help the Rangers be playoff contenders is being able to increase his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 4 to 1. In 2022 he struck out 27 batters and walked 17. In 2020 prior to Tommy John he struck out 31 and walked 8. This will be his first time being on the opening-day season roster with 162 games. That in itself is a challenge.
For Hernandez to make the leap from a reliable bullpen arm to an elite bullpen arm he needs to increase his strikeout-to-walk ratio. The best bullpen arms like Emmanuel Clase and Edwin Diaz are more like six-to-one or seven-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. It would be a big step forward for Hernandez to increase his ratio to four to one. Hernandez has the ability to do this as well. It is about throwing his pitches with conviction and command. All of his pitches move, it is about making sure they move in and around the zone.
We are still weeks away from learning who the closer will be on this team. It is likely that come Opening Day there is not a set closer. Bruce Bochy might use April to try out a few guys in that role. One thing that cannot be disputed is that among the pitchers currently on the roster pitching in the bullpen Hernandez has the highest ceiling. He has the stuff and makeup of an elite closer. Hernandez needs to take advantage of his opportunities to close out games, he needs to look at his pitch selection and work to lower his batting average against, and increase his strikeout to walk ratio. If he can do these three things he will certainly help the Texas Rangers become playoff contenders in the 2023 season.