Viva Livan! After sixteen years, seven teams and 3,121.2 innings pitched, Livan Hernandez has latched on with the Houston Astros for the 2012 season on a minor league deal. Hernandez, who served as a mentor and coach to young Nats starters last September after another season of innings-munching with his beer-league softball velocity (84.4 mph with his "fastball," besting only knuckleballer/mountain man R.A. Dickey), will try to earn the fifth starter's spot and give prospects like Jordan Lyles more time to develop in the minors.
Despite possessing stuff that wouldn't get him a spot on some varsity high school squads, Livan has managed to soak up innings and post a not-terrible 90 ERA+ (10 percent worse than the league average) over the past three seasons. Hernandez has one of the 10 lowest strikeout rates (five per nine innings) among starters over that time frame, but he has stayed afloat due to a quality walk rate (2.5 unintentionals per nine).
Livan hardly pounds the strike zone, having placed less than 40% of his pitches over the plate from 2009-2011 (the league average for starters is about 49%). Rather, he's the best in the business at stretching the strike zone and getting favorable calls from umpires on the corners.
Most umps call strikes on left-handed hitters on pitches that are actually a little off the outside corner:
But Livan gets even more calls on the outside corner versus lefty hitters:
Those generous calls on outer-third pitches add up. Hernandez has gotten called strikes on out-of-zone pitches thrown to lefties 19% of the time since 2009, way above the 13% average for righty starters to lefty hitters. Colby Lewis is the only righty starter that has received more outer-third calls versus lefties. Put another way, Livan got 397 called strikes on out-of-zone pitches to lefties over the past three seasons. A starter with a 13% rate of called strikes on off-the-plate pitches to lefties would have gotten 272 called strikes.
Livan lives on the edge against right-handers, too. Check out the average called strike rate by pitch location for righty starters vs. righty hitters, and then Hernandez's:
Livan has gotten called strikes on out-of-zone pitches to righty hitters 16% of the time since 2009, second in the majors to Jake Peavy and nearly double the average for RHPs versus RHBs. Hernandez has received 294 called strikes on out-of-zone pitches to righties since '09. The average righty pitcher would get 150 called strikes.
Think about that -- Hernandez got 269 extra strikes by getting calls on the corners over the past three seasons. Living on the edge has allowed Livan to keep playing a glorified game of catch at age 37.