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Kiké Hernández has taken a step forward

Hernández has proven that he needs to be playing everyday.

MLB: NLDS-Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

To say that the Dodgers tend to radically transform players is a bit of an understatement. This is the team that weaponized Justin Turner after he was released by the Mets, made the Mariners look like bozos with the Chris Taylor trade, and did whatever the hell they did to make Max Muncy a top-ten hitter.

Those players have gotten plenty attention, but there’s another player who has made tremendous leaps without much attention. On another team, he’d make a case to be a starter, but before this season, Kiké Hernández hasn’t been much more than a solid bench player for the ridiculously talented Dodgers. But this season, Hernández has shown that he should be starting, and the Dodgers are paying attention. Hernández has started in each of the Dodgers’ six playoff appearances.

In 2018, Hernández put together a career-high 462 plate appearances. That’s over 100 more than he had in 2017 and he only appeared in five more games this year. He certainly made the most of those extra appearances. He hit .256/.336/.470 for a 118 wRC+, the first time he had been above 100 since his partial season in 2015. He put together 3.3 fWAR which would have him the most valuable player on the Giants, Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Tigers. I don’t know if that speaks to the depth of the Dodgers or how bad those other teams are, but the main point is that Kiké Hernández has taken a step forward.

The thing that jumps out the most is that the drop in strikeouts. Before 2018, Hernández struck out a roughly league-average rate. This year, Hernández struck out just 16.9 percent of the time compared to his 23.4 mark the year before. That was the fourth greatest year-to-year decrease in the majors.

Hernández cut out the strikeouts in the way you would expect: by swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone. He swung at fewer pitches overall but chasing less allowed him to make more contact and put more balls in play.

In 2018, Hernández did a nice job of laying off pitches on his hands. Here’s a heatmap showing his swing rate through 2017.

FanGraphs

Here’s his swing rate for 2018.

FanGraphs

While he chased fewer pitches outside the strike zone, his walk rate didn’t go up. The boost to his on-base percentage came from converting strikeouts into base hits. Hernández hasn’t been hitting the ball any harder. His average exit velocity and hard-hit rates remained the same. But he’s hit more balls into the air. His average launch angle rose from a career 13.7 to 15.5.

Hernández’s postseason hasn’t worked out the same way. He’s 2-for-16 with one homer, four strikeouts, and four walks. The Brewers have been pitching Hernández outside where he’s less likely to swing but also less likely to make solid contact.

Regardless of how the rest of his October goes, Hernández taking a step forward is great news for the Dodgers.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville.