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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Kiké Hernández

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After backing up a slew of stars in Los Angeles, Kiké Hernández could certainly do the same in the Bronx.

World Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Six Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Involved in the Dodgers-Marlins swap for Dee Gordon in 2014, Kiké Hernández has spent the past six years becoming a beloved member of the now Championship winning Dodger family, for much, much more than his on-field performance. Known for his jovial demeanor and fine physique, Hernández has also come up clutch in some of the biggest spots for the Dodgers. In these most recent playoffs, Hernández homered in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie Game Seven of the NLDS, which the Dodgers, of course, would go on to win:

While any individual’s ability to improve in higher pressure moments might exist on some level, according to Dick Cramer’s definitive work on the subject, “…can scarcely be much larger than what might be expected to result from luck.” Therefore, even though Kiké has provided extraordinary value to the Dodgers in some of the franchise’s highest leverage moments, it’s worth noting that his high-pressure successes might not necessarily be predictive of future ones.

Finally a free agent, Hernández reportedly wants a one-year deal and a starting role on a team. Having made about $13 million over the course of his eight-year career, he’s set to earn substantial fraction of that in just this next season.

His most easily applicable skill to any team is his defensive versatility. As a poor-man’s Ben Zobrist, Hernández can play seven positions competently. While he lacks an elite arm, he possesses the agility, coordination, and technique to pass at every outfield position and up the middle in the infield, particularly at second base. Per OAA, Hernández has somewhat declined from solid to average, but hasn’t lost a step speed-wise, so that decline probably has more to do with the variance of small sample sizes across each position than any permanent dip in performance. Further, Kiké’s hand sprain and hamstring strain in 2019 could help account for it being by far his worst in the field.

Offensively, Kiké’s no killer, but there’s enough pop in his bat to be optimistic about his future performance at the plate. He’s a career 122 OPS+ hitter against lefties, but just 82 against righties. Altogether he’s almost exactly average, sporting a career OPS+ of 98. Mechanically, Hernández has a beautiful, athletic swing that makes the absolute most of his 5’11” frame, and has delivered several drives of greater than 110 mph, and a couple seasons of above MLB’s mean average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage.

Following a quick and full hip turn, he gets great extension through the zone without pulling off the ball. He also displays incredibly fluid stretch and fire on his acceleration to the ball, as well as his deceleration on the back-end of his swing.

Kiké’s crutch, however, is his penchant for swinging at practically everything, regardless of a pitch’s location in or around the zone. According to his Statcast Swing Take profile, Kiké gains a run, or two, or three inside the zone and in the heart, waste, and chase sections. He’s got a solid enough bat-to-ball skill to damage mistakes, and lays off of obvious balls. However, in the shadow zone, he’s rated at -11 runs, exclusively off swings; he was a net neutral on takes. By always swinging at pitches on and beyond the edge of the zone, Kiké expands the canvas that a pitcher gets to work with, making it easier to throw him a diet of worse pitches, and still generate swings and misses or bad contact.

One stat in particular suggests some possible room for improvement. In his first time facing a starting pitcher, Hernández’s career OPS is just .697. In his second plate appearance against the same arm, however, that number skyrockets to .933, buoyed by a 79-point jump in on-base percentage. While almost every hitter improves from at-bat one to two, Kiké’s improvement is astronomical. Since he’s never been a full-time player, there may be something to be said for needing to reacclimate to live pitching upon each new occasion he’d receive a start. In the coming season, if Hernández makes playing time his number one priority in determining his decision on who he’ll sign with, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that his overall averages creep a bit towards that latter OPS mark, even if they don’t quite reach it.

In need of a Marwin Gonzalez replacement, and hopefully an improvement, the Twins could certainly utilize Hernández’s services, as a similarly versatile defender and superior hitter. Several reports have suggested that the Twins are in active pursuit. The Red Sox too, as recently as yesterday, have been linked to Hernández. Alex Cora, current Sox Skipper, was the GM for the Puerto Rican team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, which Hernández was a part of. With their aforementioned familiarity, the Red Sox would likely want Hernández for his positive attitude as much as his ability to hold down the keystone for them.

While the Yankees, I’m sure, would love Hernández in the Tyler Wade role, a dugout leader and spot starter, it doesn’t seem like that’s what Kiké is looking for. Further, that role, though if handled excellently can take a great team over the top, is not something that the Yankees will be willing to spend more than a handful of millions on. Given the Yankees’ current roster construction, that money would be better spent on another arm instead of a backup infielder. If DJ LeMahieu walks, and the Yankees can’t ink a suitable shortstop on a one-year deal, Kiké could be a potential patch for LeMahieu’s void, until the following offseason, that is.

Kiké’s unbridled joy for life would make him a boon to any locker room, though the most likely scenario is that won’t be with the Yankees.