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Why Livan Hernandez is the best pitcher in the National League

Posted By Sam Diament On Apr 17 2010 @ 4:09 pm In Washington Nationals | No Comments

Ok, fine, I am exaggerating a little bit.

Livan has made two starts this year.

April 11 @ NYM: 7.0 innings, 5 hits, 3 bb, 1 so, 88 pitches
April 17 vs. MIL: 9.0 innings, 4 hits, 2 bb, 3 so, 112 pitches

He won both, and here is why: the Nationals gave him an early lead, and Livan proceeded to pound the strike zone. Of the 200 pitches he has thrown, 121 of them have been strikes. The best way to describe Hernandez is efficient. However, another way to describe him is smart. When given a lead, a pitcher shouldn’t go out there looking for strike outs or nibbling around hitters. Livan understands this. If he gives up a home run to Ryan Braun, so what? He faces him once or twice more in the game. Braun and Fielder themselves can’t make up 8 runs.

Typically, the two starts Livan had would be cause for concern. He doesn’t induce many swings and misses (3 in his first start), and he doesn’t strike many batters out. This should come back and even out over the course of the year, and that is very disconcerting. That being said, Livan has yet to allow a home run, suggesting that batters are having a hard time squaring up on the ball.

The other pitchers on the team could learn a thing or two from Livan. When given a big lead, don’t be afraid to challenge the hitters. And if you do give up a home run, don’t worry about it. Move on to the next batter. The other pitchers – John Lannan included, who claims to good at dealing with adversity – never seem to be able to bounce back from a hit. Well, they have to learn. If nothing else, just look at the results produced by Livan. 16 innings, 0 runs, 2 wins.

There are two other very interesting and important statistics to note about these two starts. The first is that Livan had a WPA of .198 in his first start and .293 in today’s start. In other words, all by himself, he increased the Nationals’ odds of winning the game by 20% and 30% in his respective starts. That is impressive. The second number is Leverage Index. In each start, Livan’s average LI while pitching have been 0.60 and 0.62. That is low. In fact, that is extremely low. Granted, when pitching with an 8-run lead, LI will be low inherently. However, Livan did a good job of keeping runners off base, keeping his LI low. In doing so, he threw fewer high-stress pitches, allowing him to remain in the game longer. As a result, the usually self-imploding bullpen was given the entire day off, meaning the good pitchers will be rested for tomorrow and the bad pitches can take the weekend off.

Livan came into Spring Training as a non-roster invitee and, 11 games into the season, is far and away the Nationals’ best pitcher.

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