Much of Livan Hernandez's reputation as a big game pitcher comes from a World Series MVP Award he won nearly ten years ago. The problem with that method of analysis is that the 1997 World Series MVP selection was among the worst of all time. Livan may have won two games in that Series, but he walked ten batters and allowed fifteen hits en route to a 5.27 Series ERA.
A method pioneered by Eldon and Harlan Mills in 1970 attempts to quantify how each event in a game changes a team's probability for winning. Give the player weighted Win Points for the times that he increases his team's chance of winning and weighted Loss Points for the times that he made victory a little less likely. We find that in the 1997 World Series, Livan accumulated more Loss Points than Win Points; the World Series MVP actually decreased his team's chances of winning games!
But to be fair, Livan Hernandez was (allegedly) just 22 years old that October. Surely his ability to handle big game pressure has improved as he has aged?
Wrong again. In the 2002 World Series, Hernandez went 0-2 with a 14.57 ERA. Livan lasted just 5 2/3 innings combined in those two starts, depleting the Giants' bullpen and therefore possibly contributing to losses besides the two directly attributed to him. His career World Series ERA and WHIP are 7.71 and 2.22 respectively. It doesn't take a fancy metric to show that Livan Hernandez is not a guy that you want on the mound in a World Series game.
In other postseason action, however, Hernandez has gone 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA. Perhaps he does have a penchant for stepping his performance up when it counts.
Don't bet on it. This season, opponents are batting .270 against Hernandez with the bases empty, but .335 with men on base. They've hit .289 with runners in scoring position and .324 w/RISP and 2 outs. Any way you look at it, Hernandez has enormous problems pitching out of jams and getting key outs this season. If he ever did have an ability to make the big pitches, that ability has faded away even more than his overall numbers have.
There is some good news. Livan Hernandez has a career second-half ERA of 3.87, 60 points lover than his pre-All Star ERA. If he can manage a 4.74 ERA from here on out (5.34-0.60), it would be a better mark than any Diamondbacks starter other than Brandon Webb and Juan Cruz have achieved so far. To be honest, having Hernandez pitch well down the stretch and get the Diamondbacks into the postseason is far more important than his ability to perform well in his one or two games per hypothetical playoff series. You have to be able to get to the postseason in order to win in the postseason. If Josh Byrnes was really overly concerned with having a pitcher do well in the playoffs, he'd never have traded Livan's brother, who really is a big game pitcher.
Unfortunately, for Livan to pitch well down the stretch, he'll have to curb his extreme flyball tendencies when pitching in one of the easiest parks around to homer in. Counting on that seems to be a pretty huge gamble considering the upsides of Garrett Mock and Matt Chico, the two stellar prospects dealt to the Nationals in the trade. But who knows? Livan's reputation as a big game pitcher is clearly undeserved, perhaps his reputation as a flyball pitcher will prove equally so.
Read more from Keith Glab at BaseballEvolution.com