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Something Borrowed, Something New(ish): On Gaudin and Hernandez

On account of you're the sort of Informed Reader who makes it his business to stop by this here website, you're probably also the sort of Reader who's heard by now that, last night, under the cover of darkness, the New York Americans acquired Chad "Terrible Facial Hair" Gaudin for either future cash considerations or the ol' player-to-be-named.

While the move is probably a good one for the Yankers, who now have more pieces with which to play, it's horrible for anyone who owns Gaudin, who'll now be moving from the cavernous Petco Park to the excessively friendly confines of the new Yankee Stadium.

Gaudin is a strange case. After posting above-average xFIPs of 4.43 and 4.00 for Oakland and the Chicago Nationals, respectively, last year, he was unexpectedly released by the Cubs at the end of spring training. San Diego GM Kevin Towers – he of the myriad trash-heap signings – took a modest chance on Gaudin and was summarily rewarded. In 105 1/3 IP for the Friars, Gaudin put up a line of 8.97 K/9 and 4.78 BB/9 with a GB|PERCENT| of 45|PERCENT| and xFIP of 4.23.

The move to Nueva York poses some difficulties, though. Chief among them is the inflated home run rate of the new Yankee Stadium. Where, according to ESPN, Petco sports a HR Factor of just 0.723, Yankee Stadium's is at 1.386. So far this season, Gaudin's HR/Flyball is at 7.8|PERCENT|, below the league average of ca. 11.5|PERCENT|. That number could double at his new home.

Furthermore, Gaudin's walk rate, already a little frightening at 4.78 BB/9, is likely to increase in the more selective AL – especially in the East, where remaining match-ups against the very disciplined Red Sox and Rays could prove challenging.

In a good piece over at FanGraphs today, the always-right Dave Cameron takes a brief look at Gaudin's L/R splits, writing:

Gaudin has a solid fastball/slider combination and is extremely tough on right-handed hitters. Unfortunately, his change-up kind of sucks, so lefties give him serious problems, which is why he's never been able to hold down a job as a starting pitcher.

Seriously, check out his career splits:

Vs RHB: 8.3|PERCENT| BB|PERCENT|, 23.8|PERCENT| K|PERCENT|
Vs LHB: 13.2|PERCENT| BB|PERCENT|, 10.8|PERCENT| K|PERCENT|

Against right-handers, he's terrific, using his slider to generate a ton of swinging strikes, which puts him ahead in the count and gives him a real out pitch. Against lefties, the slider doesn't work, so he just nibbles the corners and ends up walking everyone. He does a good enough job of pitching away from the strike zone that lefties don't light him up when they make contact, but by living on the edges, he ends up as a high-walk, pitch-to-contact guy.

If the Yankees do the smart thing, we could very likely be seeing Gaudin in a non-save ROOGY type role – what Cameron calls Jeff Nelson 2.0. That would decrease Gaudin's fantasy value significantly.

Pop quiz: Which of the following highly touted Baltimore prospects led his respective minor league in strikeouts in both 2007 and 2008?

a) Chris Tillman
b) Brian Matusz
c) Jake Arrieta
d) Brandon Erbe

Did you guess? Well, if you did, you were wrong, because the answer is actually "None of the above." In fact, that distinction belongs to David Hernandez, who posted a 10.40 K/9 in 145 1/3 IP with high Class A Frederick in 2007 and a 10.60 K/9 in 141 IP with Double-A Bowie last season. Hernandez began this season well, too, posting a 12.40 K/9 and only 2.83 BB/9 in 57 1/3 IP with Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate Norfolk.

Unfortunately for him and for fantasy leaguers, Hernandez's performance hasn't carried over to the majors, where so far, in 52 1/3 IP, Hernandez is sporting rates of only 4.82 K/9 and 3.61 BB/9 to go with a dangerously low GB|PERCENT| of 29.3|PERCENT|. His xFIP of 5.98 suggests a regression from his current ERA of 3.96 in the near future, which started to happen in the form of yesterday's performance at Detroit: 3 IP, 1 K, 2 BB, 1 HR.

Hernandez might be an example of the need for both performance and traditional scouting when evaluating a player, because, despite the gaudy strikeout totals, scouts have never been very high on him. In this year's Prospect Handbook, Baseball America suggests that Hernandez gets his whiffs more on deception than actual stuff, and that a lack of a quality third pitch might make him more appropriate as bullpen material. Similar evaluations have been given of Yusmeiro Petit and Garrett Olson in recent years – both of whom posted excellent minor league K rates but have had mixed results at the major league level.

Hernandez is still young and could develop said third pitch – and I'll be cheering for him. Until then, however, it looks like he's a middling major leaguer at best.