The Dodgers offseason was highlighted by the acquisition of two Japanese superstars in Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Rightfully, those two have drawn the majority of the attention thus far. However, they aren’t the only impact additions the Dodgers have made since the close of the 2023 season.
They also signed former Astros, Blue Jays and Mariners outfielder Teoscar Hernández to a one-year deal worth $23.5 million in January. The 2021 All-Star is a power bat who’s hit 22 or more home runs in the last five full seasons. Hernandez though is not without concern as his 2023 OPS was 129 points lower than two years prior and he is coming off of a 211-strikeout season. Besides those numbers though, what are the strengths and weaknesses of his overall game?
Where Hernández excels
Hernandez’s biggest strength as a hitter is his ability to consistently impact the baseball. He is coming off of a season in which he posted an average exit velocity of 91.3 mph, in the 88th percentile in MLB, and has six consecutive seasons at or above 91.2 mph. In addition to that, Hernandez has a hard-hit percentage (batted balls of 95+ mph) that has fallen in the 91st percentile or better in three of the last four seasons. The reason that is important is because the harder a batter hits the ball, the more likely it is that the ball results in a hit, meaning it carries higher expected metrics with it.
Additionally, when you compare his overall expected metrics from last season to some of the perceived premier hitters in the game, Hernandez stacks up quite nicely.
How does Hernandez’s 2023 stack up?
Now I am not trying to say that Teoscar Hernández is going to have a Julio Rodríguez-level impact on this Dodgers lineup. However, there’s a possibility that Dodgers fans will see him perform at an All-Star-caliber level throughout the 2024 season.
In addition when you look at strictly his expected metrics on batted balls, Hernández has been one of the best hitters in baseball. His xwOBAcon (expected wOBA, but only on batted balls) has fallen in the 92nd or better percentile in each one of the previous four seasons.
Where Hernández struggles
While all of the expected metrics and quality-of-contact numbers are nice to see when it comes to Hernández, there are some concerning trends in his game as well. Hernandez was a hitter who early in his career struggled with strikeouts. He had a 30.4-percent or higher strikeout rate in four consecutive seasons from 2017 through 2020. In 2021 it dipped to 24.9 percent, in 2023 though it was back up to 31.1 percent, a number in the ninth percentile. His walk rate has also followed a concerning trend as his mark of 5.6 percent percent last season was the lowest tally he has had in his career and one that fell into the 13th percentile.
Traditionally, hitters who struggle with strikeouts also struggle with chasing pitches and whiffing and that describes Hernandez perfectly. In 2023, his chase rate last season was 35.4 percent, the highest it has been in his career by 4.5 percent and his whiff percentage rose to 35.8 percent, the second-highest mark in his career.
The majority of the reason took a step back this year in those areas is because of his new found struggles against four seam fastballs. In 2022 his whiff rate against them was 27.8 percent and his strikeout rate was 24.4 percent. Both of which are more than respectable numbers and neither cause cause for concern. In 2023 though, there were reasons to be concerned as those numbers jumped to 34 and 36.4 percent respectively. There is of course a chance those numbers are an anomaly and will correct themselves in 2024. However, hitters traditionally do not improve against high velocity as they age.
What is his 2024 outlook?
If — and this is a big if — Hernández can quell concerns about his regression against four-seamers and overall swing-and-miss tendencies, then Hernández will likely have an All-Star-caliber season for the Dodgers. However, if those numbers continue to grow or even remain identical to what he posted in 2023, I have concerns about his outlook this season. He saw four-seamers just 23 percent of the time last season, far and away the lowest mark in his career. If that number gets to around 29 percent theres a chance his strikeout numbers can get rather ugly this season.