Could trading for Carlos Hernandez from the Kansas City Royals help the Braves?
Of course, it will depend on the price, but Carlos Hernandez has put together a solid year and Kansas City is competing with the Oakland Athletics for the worst record in baseball. It makes sense to cash in on a reliever.
From 2020 to 2022, Hernandez struggled to find his footing in the Majors. Through his first 156.1 innings, he had a 5.12 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 5.26 xFIP, & 5.13 SIERA. He struggled to strike people out enough (17.7%) and walked too many (11.3%).
In 2023, he has been a different pitcher. Through 43 appearances and 50 innings pitched, Hernandez has a 3.78 ERA, 3.39 xERA, 2.82 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, and 3.25 SIERA. He is striking out 28.6% of batters and has cut his walks nearly in half with a 6.5% walk rate. For reference, he struck out 35 batters in 56 innings in 2022 and already has 57 strikeouts this season.
If we take out the month of April, Hernandez's numbers drop to a 3.25 ERA, 2.09 FIP, 3.49 xFIP, and 3.19 SIERA.
One factor that could be leading to this career year is his fastball. In 2022, his fastball averaged 96.8 mph and the numbers against him were ugly. They were as follows: .366 BA, .311 xBA, .581 SLG, .540 xSLG, .448 wOBA, and .415 xwOBA. It had a 17.8% whiff rate and a 6.3% put-away rate. Oof.
He reworked his mechanics and now the fastball is averaging 99 mph. He is throwing it more, currently 57.2% of the time, up from 49.7%. Rightfully so, as the numbers against him are way better. The fastball now sees a .221 BA, .216 xBA, .358 SLG, .347 xSLG, .289 wOBA, and .284 xwOBA. It now has a 25.6% whiff rate and a 19.5% put-away rate. Very nice.
The fastball is also seeing 1.5 inches more horizontal movement this season. In total, the fastball is worth about 8 in terms of run value. That is the same as Shohei Ohtani's fastball, Spencer Strider's slider, and Zach Eflin's curveball. In short, it has been an effective pitch.
He also began throwing his slider more. Last year, the slider averaged 85.9 mph with a .375 BA, 293 xBA, .563 SLG, .511 xSLG, .413 wOBA, and .360 xwOBA. In 2023 the slider is up to 88.8 mph with a .143 BA, .220 xBA, .265 SLG, .357 xSLG, .194 wOBA, and .264 xwOBA.
Hernandez stopped throwing the curveball, threw the slider more and harder, and it is pairing well with a great fastball. Now, he is starting to look like a guy that would be a great 7th-8th inning arm in bullpens. For a contending team like the Braves, he could be someone they deploy in innings 5 or 6, or maybe even earlier in the postseason when the leashes tighten up on every pitcher.
He has also shown the ability to go multiple innings. Which increases his value.
Another boost to his value is that he is under team control through 2028. The Braves would be trading for someone they could pencil into the bullpen for several years. That also might make it tough for the Royals to give him up. However, it also means an increased trade value, and the Royals are nowhere near competing. They should consider moving any bullpen arms for any sort of young talent they can bring in.
The Royals might be interested in someone like Jared Shuster, a young pitcher that they would have years of control over. Shuster would benefit from being in a rebuilding environment in Kansas City, which would allow him the chance to develop with major league innings, something the Braves cannot afford to do in a championship window.
Potentially toss in a Jesse Franklin and/or Cal Conley to sweeten the deal. All speculation of course, as the teams may value each player differently.
Hernandez would be an interesting name for the Braves to make a move for ahead of the MLB trade deadline.