2021 age: 31
Bats: Switch; Throws: Right
Contract: 1-yr/$5 million (2022 club option)
2020 stats: .283/.355/.408 – 3 HR, 20 2B, 20 RBI – 110 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR
2020 in review: Hernandez was Cleveland’s choice in free agency in the 2019 offseason to replace longtime second basemen Jason Kipnis, a long tenured team leader who declined due to injuries. Even in the shortened season Hernandez proved to be a solid pickup. He led off most of the season for Cleveland and scored 35 runs. He also earned a Gold Glove award, serving as a stable leadoff hitter and key part of the defense. He delivered exactly what Cleveland signed him for.
Offensive impact: The best part of Hernandez’s game are his on-base skills. He has a career .352 on-base percentage and a .277 average to hold it up. In his career as a switch hitter he has been good against right handed pitching (.353 OBP) as left handed pitching (.350 OBP). Last year he had a .373 OBP vs right handed pitching but only a .303 OBP against left handed pitching. He’s never hit for much power (.408 SLG in 2019 and 2020) but manages to hit for a good average and walk enough to get on base for the middle part of the order.
Defensive impact: In 2020 Hernandez earned his first Gold Glove. He was in the 91st percentile in Outs Above Average according to Statcast at +4. He’s been up and down by defensive metrics at second in his career, finishing at 0 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved according to Fangraphs) in 2019 but 6 in 2020. He had negative values there in 2018 and 2017, but was at 2 in 2016.
Beyond the stats: For the majority of his career Hernandez has run high batting averages on balls in play (BABIP) at .339 for his career. It was just .315 and .313 in 2018 and 2019. In 2020 it was back up to .364, possibly thanks to a career high 89 mph in exit velocity and his hard hit rate up to a career high 37.1%. He also recovered some of his walk totals, bumping closer to his career norms at 9.2% (career 9.9%). He did have a three year stretch above 10% (10.6% and 10.4% in 2016 and 2017, and 13.4% in 2018). Hernandez reduced his chase rate from 27% in 2019 to 22% in 2020 that likely helped recover his walk rate. The particular offensive skills Hernandez needs to make him valuable with the bat all trended in good directions in 2020.
2021 role: Cleveland put Hernandez at the top of the order in 2020 instead of Francisco Lindor, who led off since 2017 for Cleveland. Lindor moved back to the leadoff spot later in the year to try to spark his offense, meanwhile Hernandez was doing exactly what he was paid to do. With Lindor gone Hernandez should assume the leadoff role without any challengers and he’ll man second base for 140-150 games.
Fantasy impact: Hernandez didn’t even attempt a steal for the first time in his career in 2020. In the past he has been good between 10-20 steals in some years. Perhaps he stopped running hitting in front of Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Cleveland’s lineup isn’t as deep and dynamic now, so he may attempt some steals again. His sprint speed was 28.7, down from 29 in years past, but it still put him in the 90th percentile in the league, so he may still be capable of stealing. Hernandez would serve as a nice bench option on a fantasy roster because he may be able to hit for a good average, hit 10 homers and steal 10 bases, and boost your on-base percentage if you’re in a league that counts that. Consider him a good backup or cheap middle infield option in cheaper leagues if you need help with rate stats.