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20 Things: Finding a role for Teoscar Hernandez

Welcome to Blue Jays Nation’s Season In Review. Instead of doing boring-ass, standard player-by-player reviews or handing out some arbitrary report cards, I’m going to talk about 20 things that are on my mind heading into 2020. Today, we have Teoscar Hernandez’s role on the team. 

Teoscar Hernandez is an enigma.

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There’s quite a bit to like about him as a player. Mostly because he does stuff like this…

But he’s also an incredibly frustrating player. Mostly because he also does stuff like this…

There’s a big bat there with a tremendous amount of upside. There’s also the very real issue of his glove. You want to have Hernandez in the lineup, but you don’t know exactly where to put him on the field.

There was a point in time last year where the answer to that question was “Who the hell cares? Play him wherever you want in Buffalo.” Hernandez had a nightmarish start to the 2019 season. By mid-May, he was slashing a .189/.262/.299 line with just three home runs. For a player carried by his bat, that isn’t ideal.

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Hernandez was sent down to Triple-A Buffalo following a 0-for-4 day with four strikeouts in San Francisco. While he was down there, Hernandez drastically altered his swing and he rejoined the Blue Jays a few weeks later looking like a completely different player.

From June 5 until the end of the season, Hernandez wasn’t just good. He was arguably Toronto’s best hitter. In 86 games after he changed his swing in Buffalo, Hernandez slashed a damn good .248/.325/.548 line, hitting 23 homers in the process. The only players who could really hold a candle to that kind of production were Bo Bichette, who had an amazing showing over his 46 games after being called up in August, and Lourdes Gurriel, who had a similar surge in a smaller, injury-shortened sample size after making adjustments in Triple-A.

All told, Hernandez slashed a .230/.306/.472 line, which is pretty identical to the .239/.302/.468 line he put together in 2018, his first full season as a Major Leaguer. But it’s that .873 OPS Hernandez posted after his time in Buffalo that makes him so exciting. If his swing change is going to lead to that level of production over a full season, Hernandez absolutely should be an everyday guy.

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There’s also still the glaring issue of his glove, right?

Hernandez has looked lost in the corner outfield ever since he arrived in Toronto mid-way through the 2017 season. The eye-test has suggested that’s the case and his defensive metrics support it. He was curiously shifted to centre field after being recalled from Buffalo in 2019 and results weren’t any better. He didn’t have the same noticeable gaffes and he didn’t record an error in centre, but his -7 defensive runs saved according to FanGraphs suggest he was just as bad there as he was in the corners.

There was talk heading into the off-season about Hernandez putting in work at first and even second base in order to find him a better fit on the field, but it looks like that experiment isn’t going to happen. According to Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Hernandez in the infield thing hasn’t happened and the focus will remain on him being an outfielder.

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But is Hernandez’s glove that big of an issue if he’s hitting the way he did in the second half of the season? Maybe not.

For the sake of comparison, here’s Hernandez’s second-half offence and 2019 total defence compared to a few prominent free agents…

  • Hernandez: .248/.325/.548 and -0.6 dWAR (Baseball-Reference)
  • Player A: .241/.328/.472 and -0.4 dWAR
  • Player B: .289/.337/525 and -1.5 dWAR
  • Player C: .249/.393/.496 and -3.2 dWAR

Player A and Player B are two of the biggest free agents left on the market and are two outfielders many have talked about the Blue Jays signing in order to insert a big bat into their lineup. They’re Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos. Player C was the biggest name on the free-agent market last season who ended up signing a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. It’s Bryce Harper.

The comparisons aren’t perfect for a variety of reasons and defensive metrics have flaws, but if Ozuna, Castellanos, and Harper are worthy of multi-year free-agent contracts based on being big bats who aren’t good in the outfield, Hernadez’s glove might not actually be an issue.

This, of course, comes down to his swing change. If Hernandez is the player who smashed the cover off the ball after coming back up from Buffalo, his glove doesn’t really matter that much. You can put him in the outfield and his bat will compensate for his glove. But if he hits as he did over the entirety of the 2018 season, or, hell, as he did early in 2019, that isn’t the case. Hell, if there are three better outfielders, you can make him an everyday designated hitter with that production. His numbers are quite similar to the .244/.344/.531 line that Edwin Encarnacion slashed between Seattle and New York last season and most of us would have been thrilled if he came back for a second round with the Jays’ DH.

We’ve been talking all winter about adding a big bat to the middle of the lineup, whether it was Castellanos or Ozuna or even Encarnacion. Maybe that big bat is already here.