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Exploring César Hernández’s two-times theory

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César Hernández wants to get on base twice every game. That’d be good, right?

MLB: Spring Training-Cleveland Indians at San Francisco Giants Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

During Monday night’s exhibition game, the broadcast crew shared a little anecdote about new, Top 10, second baseman for the Indians, César Hernández. Reportedly, he told Terry Francona that if he can get on base twice in a game, the Indians are going to win. That’s bold, that’s the kind of borderline cocky assuredness that we all love in our ball players. We want this to be the case, and it’s a great sentiment for a guy who is supposed to be the spark for the offense to carry with him. You have to wonder though, how true is it?

Obviously it’s great if your leadoff guy gets on twice in a game, you have a pretty good chance of winning. Remember Esky Magic, with the Royals? They had a .712 winning percentage when he swung at the first pitch in 2015. It didn’t last, but it was pretty amazing in the short term. Last year the Indians were 52-20 when Francisco Lindor got on two times. So it seems like it helps. Hernández looks like he’s taking over for Lindor in the 1-hole, and it’d be nice if the Indians did, in fact, win a lot. So let’s take a look at how true his boast really is.

Hernández has spent his entire career to this point with the Phillies as they’ve gone through the depths of a rebuild, and left just as they seem to be coming out the other side. It’s the kind of poor timing that happens when a team stutters in its rebuild. He was never a poor player really, averaging 2.1 bWAR as a full-time starter, and over the last year or two actually and literally being a top 10 second baseman, if only by default of second base being a top-heavy and mostly middling position. And Whit Merrifield and Yoan Moncada moving positions and some other technicalities, possibly involving Max Muncy. He played a lot, starting all but two games the last two years, and leading off 305 times since 2017.

When he got on base twice, they did pretty good:

Hernández’s team record when he gets on base twice

Year Wins Losses Winning% Overal Team W%
Year Wins Losses Winning% Overal Team W%
2019 47 25 .652 .500
2018 46 34 .575 .494
2017 37 36 .507 .407

As the chart shows, the Phillies were not very good the last three years, only even touching .500 in 2019, but when Hernández got on base twice they did pretty well compared to their own typical selves. He was certainly a positive influence, though not as much as Lindor was in 2019 with his 52-20 rate. The Indians had a .574 winning percentage overall last year, and that .722 rate that they put up when he got on base twice equates to a 116-win season. Lindor is a better player than Hernández though. That’s just facts. The Indians in general were better than the Phillies though, so there’s a lot of moving targets to deal with.

Something happened with Hernández’s walk rate in 2019, as it dropped from a career high 13.4% in 2018 down to 6.8%, the lowest rate of any time in his career. That’s not really great news, since getting on base is the whole point of this article, and of his boast. One would hope it bounces back to closer to the 9.9% career average, but what if it doesn’t? What if we have to count on his hits to be the thing that drives his getting on base? Luckily, there’s a chart for that:

Hernández’s team record when he gets 2 hits

Year Wins Losses Winning% Overal Team W%
Year Wins Losses Winning% Overal Team W%
2019 30 19 .612 .500
2018 22 14 .611 .494
2017 24 18 .571 .407

Again, these hits of Hernández’s boosted the winning percentage of the Phillies anywhere between 112 and 164 points. There’s obviously a lot of moving parts to that aside from just his impact at the top, but it certainly helped a bit.

Let’s say it’s real though. Those two times on base really impacted the chances of the Phillies, and the better they got the better they did with him at the top of the lineup. It worked for them just under half the time. In the parlance of 2020, that’s like 28 games or so that the Indians might get a nice kick in the pants and a better chance to win. The other team has something like that working for them too though, whether better or worse than Hernández’s own impact depends on the player. Everything is related. Like I said before, Lindor’s impact at the top was insane last year. Being able to park one in the seats 35 or so times a year certainly helps.

It would be nice to have Lindor there again, it’s a simple answer and was great last year. Plus he’s just a fun sight to start off a game. Hernández’s value in the leadoff spot, combined with Lindor in a traditional spot in the 3-hole (José Ramírez when he’s right gets on base better than Lindor anyway) in total might make more sense as a net positive than Lindor up top and Hernández batting like seventh or eighth next to Roberto Perez. They needed him for his defense too, and this optimizes his value on offense. If it’s overthinking the whole situation, it at least sounds nice, right?

Anyway, would you really have a top-10 second baseman hit at the bottom of the order?