Blue Jays hitters are off to a terrible start and Teoscar Hernandez is no exception. Plate discipline and reliable fielding are important issues for the 26 year old that could, in the long run, put his future with the Blue Jays in jeopardy.
Teoscar Hernandez has got tools that can make him an everyday player in the big leagues for a long time. He’s got extraordinary power with decent speed, two skills that many teams and players want. He was in the top 7% of the league in exit velocity with an average of 91.8 mph, clear evidence of his power, and he barreled 15.5% of the balls he hit, ahead of players like Giancarlo Stanton and Mookie Betts, and good for 11th best in the majors (minimum 90 batted balls). He also hit seven triples, proof of his decent speed on the bases.
It’s obvious there’s power and his 22 home runs from 2018 with the Blue Jays could be far from his potential. His .313 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is worth mentioning as it indicates he hit the ball well and luck wasn’t particularly on his side, considering his average for the season finished at .239, but nonetheless it’s encouraging to see high BABIP’s.
There are some issues that he really needs to solve or at least improve on, however. One of them is the strikeouts. The 26 year old has struck out 208 times in 660 plate appearances for the Blue Jays. That is striking out at a rate of 31.5% since he is a Blue Jay, and an everyday player. The major league average is at 21.7%.
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The issue with Hernandez is his plate discipline and his ability to stay off the down and outside pitches, which are often wipeout sliders and curveballs. Out of his 163 strikeouts last season, 55 of them came from pitches thrown down and outside. A consequence of the high strikeout rate, apart from killing rallies and not moving runners around the bases, is the low walk rate for the Dominican player, which stood at just 7.8% in 18′, another rate of the outfielder that’s under the major league average of 8.4%.
That’s the offensive issue. Now let’s turn to the defensive issue which really might be more worrisome. Hernandez was the Blue Jays’ worst defender in 2018. His dodgy routes to routine fly balls were something usual to see in the left field, and his defensive runs saved of -16 and eight errors in the outfield are straightforward evidence of how bad of a defender he is. You might wonder, why is his bad fielding more troubling than his lack of plate discipline and high strikeout rates? That’s because his bat isn’t worth a designated hitter’s bat, at least for now.
He’s a productive bat, but the designated hitter is supposed to be one of the best batters on the team, if not the best. Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Khris Davis, J.D. Martinez and Giancarlo Stanton are what you want from your designated hitter ideally. The designated hitters mentioned get on base a lot more, hit more home runs, and strikeout less than Teoscar Hernandez. That is why he needs to be a reliable fielder in order to be a valuable player for any team. Simply put, even though his bat is fairly good, it’s not valuable to the point where having him as the regular DH and forgetting about a defensive contribution is worth it.
What works in favor of Hernandez is the fact the Blue Jays don’t have any upcoming top outfield prospects apart from Anthony Alford and Billy McKinney, who aren’t in a position to take Hernandez’s spot as of now. There’s the possibility of Cavan Biggio ending up in the outfield, but that’s not anything certain at the moment. If Hernandez was an infielder the scenario would certainly be very different as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are looming and will more than likely lock up two spots in the infield picture.
Teoscar Hernandez has to become a more disciplined and patient hitter at the plate in order to be an even better hitter. He’s already a fine one, his 2018 110 OPS+ is a good number especially considering it was his first full major league season, but there’s certainly potential for more, and that’s good news. What will really determine his future with not only the Blue Jays, but also his role in the major leagues will be his defense. If he gets it to a level in which he becomes a reliable outfielder who the manager can put out there on a regular basis without sacrificing defense for offense, the 26 year old could be a very valuable player and be part of the future with the Blue Jays or any other team in the big leagues.