Dodgers 2016 Season Preview: Enrique Hernandez

The Banana-man became a fan favorite among the Dodger faithful in 2015, and could play an even bigger role in 2016.

Enrique Hernandez captured the hearts of Dodger fans everywhere with his personality and child-like flair to the game.

2015 Recap

Hernandez was a key part of the Dodgers’ willingness to move Dee Gordon to the Marlins. Hernandez was never a highly touted prospect, but his versatility and personality made him a coveted target. He was acquired by the Marlins at the 2014 trade deadline and struggled in limited time with them, but became a key figure for the Dodgers in 2015.

In 218 plate appearances for the Dodgers, Hernandez triple slashed .307/.346/.490 and more than a third of his hits went for extra bases. Hernandez did struggle in 128 plate appearances against right handed pitching (.234/.262/.331 with 29 strikeouts to only four walks), but he destroyed lefties with a .423/.471/.744 line in only 87 plate appearances. His struggles against righties should not be ignored, but Hernandez is essentially the perfect platoon player.

The only question with Hernandez was, which position should he platoon at? He can play virtually every position. Last year, he played everywhere but pitcher, catcher and first base, although he was reportedly the Dodgers’ emergency catcher last year. He is at least passable to the eye test at every position, although he had more than his share of struggles at times in center and at short.

2016 Role and Steamers Projections

Hernandez will likely fill the same role he fell in to last year. He should be the Dodgers’ primary backup at shortstop and center field, as well as depth at second, third, left and right. Part of me wants to see both Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis get thrown out of a game, leaving Kiké to catch, but that’s not the most likely scenario. Hernandez should be in the lineup any time the Dodgers face a lefty, and whether or not he becomes a regular will depend on his success against righties. Corey Seager‘s knee injury could open the door for Hernandez to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day, but even the biggest Hernandez fans would probably prefer to see Seager.

Steamers projections for Kiké are not very promising, as they peg him for a .248/.297/.380 triple slash with eight home runs in 350 plate appearances. This would be a pretty sizable regression, as he hit seven homers in only 218 plate appearances last season. Unfortunately, projections don’t split numbers against lefties and righties, but I would assume the projections figure Hernandez to be used against righties more often, hurting his overall numbers.

What Could Go Wrong?

Hernandez had a phenomenal season last year, but some trends can’t be ignored. His .364 BABIP overall and .423 BABIP against lefties are both definitely unsustainable and expecting him to keep that up is a mistake, but on the other hand his .234 BABIP against righties will also improve.

Hernandez struggled against righties last year, particularly righties with good offspeed pitches. He was well below average against sliders and didn’t fare too well against curveballs either, so he definitely has some work to do if he wants to be a viable everyday option. If Hernandez fails to improve against right handed pitching, he figures to still bring value with his intangibles and ability to play all over the diamond.

What Could Go Right?

Best case for Hernandez would be if he gets better against right handed hitting. If he does that, the easy comparison would be Ben Zobrist, who is the type of player every single team wishes they had. The Dodgers probably could have pursued Zobrist in the offseason, but the Hernandez won’t be 25 until August, while Zobrist will be 35 in May.

Hernandez had a great rookie year for the Dodgers and we can probably assume he’ll continue to work and improve his game. Players like Kiké don’t come around very often, and I mean that in every way possible. His personalty and pizzaz make him a fan favorite and such an easy guy to root for, and if he can put it all together he will be a special player for the Dodgers for years to come.