Kike Hernandez’ Nightmares With the Curve Uncovered

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Apr 15, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Enrique Hernandez reacts at second base after hitting a two RBI double during the fourth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Enrique Hernandez reacts at second base after hitting a two RBI double during the fourth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /
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Kike Hernandez is an integral part to the Los Angeles Dodger team. He provides positional flexibility, an average bat, and good defense. But he might have an Achilles heal.

Kike Hernandez is one of the most beloved Los Angeles Dodger. He’s not a star player- his bat and glove are average, and he can move from position to position with ease, but Kike just isn’t going to win anyone over with his play.

It’s his personality that gets you.

His rally banana shenanigans in 2015 are something most Dodger fans won’t forget anytime soon. And the video of Kike, Joc Pederson, and Justin Turner acting like minions will forever be burned into my memory.

Kike is easily one of my favorite Dodger players. I never want him playing in another uniform simply because I love seeing his personality shine. But I would also love to see him be a great player.

In 2014 Kike was traded to the Dodgers from the Marlins in a deal headlined with Dee Gordon’s departure. Kike was definitely not the centerpiece of this trade for the Dodgers. That honor would be given to Andrew Heaney. Ultimately, Heaney netted Kendrick for the Dodgers.

When Kike was promoted to the big leagues in 2015 he was something of a revelation. His slashline of .307/.346/.490 was downright incredible. Setting a minimum of 200 plate appearances, Kike was the 3rd best hitter on the team with a 133 wRC+. Going into the 2016 he looked like a lock to be a solid contributor throughout the year.

That prediction didn’t go so well. Kike missed a good bit of the season dealing with a hamstring injury and than he spent more time on the DL with a rib cage injury. And even when he did play, it wasn’t great.

Kike’s high BABIP from 2015 fell to a career low .234. His power also took a hit with his ISO dropping .49 points.  He simply wasn’t effective when he was playing. And it’s largely because the league figured out a large weakness in his offensive game.

And that would be the curve.

I first began noticing it when the Dodgers faced the Giants on September 19th. With Madison Bumgarner on the mound, Kike was getting the start. He owned Bumgarner taking him deep twice in one game. But not this game.

Kike faced Bumgarner three times. In those three plate appearances, he had three strikeouts. He saw one fastball. And 9 curves! Of the six curves Kike swung at, he whiffed on 3. It wasn’t a good game.

Against breaking balls in general, Kike whiffs about 48% of the time. That’s way above the league average of 29%. So yeah, he’s got a problem.

The weird thing is, the league is slow to adjust. Over the course of this year, the percentage of breaking balls seen by Kike rose by only 11%. Considering Kike’s performance against Bumgarner in the most recent games, I’m surprised it isn’t higher.

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All this is to say that if you think Kike should get regular playing time next year due to the loss of Howie Kendrick, it might not actually be such a good idea. As a multi-utility guy he’ll do fine. But with regular at-bats, his weakness against breaking balls, and especially curves, is going to be exposed and his performance, and the Dodgers, will suffer.

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