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César Hernández has grown impatient

The Phillies second baseman has seen his walk rate cut in half.

Chicago White Sox v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

César Hernández has never been a major offensive threat. In 2017, his best offensive season, he posted a .346 wOBA and 112 wRC+, and over his career he’s been just about average. The past three years, though, he’s put up above-average walk rates including a 13.4 percent mark last year. That was good for 16th among qualified hitters. In 2019, Hernández has walked just 5.6 percent of the time.

Hernández’s 7.9 percent year-to-year drop is the largest among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances this year, and there’s a considerable gap between Hernández and José Ramírez and his 5.7 percent drop.

FanGraphs

A .331 on base percentage is perfectly average, but this would be his worst OBP in a full season. Overall, Hernández is hitting .285/.331/.403 for a 90 wRC+. Without power, Hernández needs the bases on balls to keep him productive, so going from the top-20 to the bottom 20 is an alarming development.

For Hernández, the usual suspects are bringing down his walk rate. He’s been far more aggressive on the first pitch, and he’s chasing out of the strike zone at a career-high rate.

César Hernández Swing Rates

Year Chase% Zone Swing% Swing% First Pitch Swing%
Year Chase% Zone Swing% Swing% First Pitch Swing%
2015 26.1 66.9 46 33.6
2016 23 66.1 44.2 30.1
2017 20.1 60.3 40.3 18.9
2018 17.8 57.4 37.6 18.5
2019 27.9 65.9 46.8 26.5
Baseball Savant

Hernández has gone back to 2015 and 2016 levels of aggression after exhibiting more patience the last two years. The results haven’t exactly been poor, but they haven’t been as good as in the years he was more selective.

César Hernández First Pitch Slugging

Year SLG
Year SLG
2015 .455
2016 .457
2017 .596
2018 .633
2019 .429
Baseball Savant

Hernández has already put more first pitches in play this year (64) than he had in 2017 or 2018 (52 and 60 respectively). He’s also putting the ball in play in all counts, and if he’s putting the ball in play, he’s obviously not drawing a walk. His propensity to ambush early is also keeping his strikeout rate down to a career-best 14.0 percent, but putting the ball in play is a dubious endeavor for a guy whose exit velocity and hard-hit rates rank in the 10th and 8th percentiles.

It’s not so simple as to tell Hernández to stop swinging at the first pitch so often. That might the only time he’s likely to see a fastball. Pitchers across the league are throwing more breaking balls, but César Hernández has seen a disproportionate increase.

Baseball Savant

More specifically, he’s seeing far fewer sinkers, as well as more sliders, curves, and changeups. Hernández, like most hitters, has fared better against heaters so his newfound aggression might have been a reaction to how pitchers are approaching him.

Now that he’s getting more breaking balls, it makes sense that his chase rate would rise. More sliders and curves mean that he’s seeing more pitches designed to get him to chase. Still, Hernández is chasing more fastballs out of the zone than ever before.

It’s rare to see a player’s walk rate plummet the way Hernández’s has. While pitchers are approaching him a little differently, this is mostly self-inflicted. Maybe after putting up a career-high 15 homers in 2018, Hernández got a taste of power and that’s been driving the aggression. Whatever it is, Hernández has grown impatient and his discipline is what made him a productive hitter in the first place.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.