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Is Kike Hernandez’s Roster Spot in Jeopardy?

Via AllinOne Sports

Last season, Kike Hernandez was a big part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ success as the team’s utility player.  His versatility and potency at the plate combined with his awesome personality in the club house with the famous “Rally Banana” made him a favorite of fans and teammates.  This season, however, his effectiveness with the bat has declined precipitously, and a rib injury has him currently sitting on the 15-day DL.  In his stead, the Dodgers have recalled former Mariner Chris Taylor who was acquired earlier in the season for Zach Lee.  Taylor has been relatively successful since being called up, including a huge 6-RBI game against the Arizona Diamondbacks last night.  Taylor is similar to Hernandez in that he is a utility man who can play multiple positions.  With his success and Hernandez’s struggles, could Kike’s spot be in jeopardy?

Last season, Hernandez hit a stellar .307/.346/.490 with seven home runs and 22 RBI.  Most of his damage came against left-handed pitchers where he put up a ridiculous slash line of .423/.471/.744 for a major league leading 1.215 OPS against lefties.  Hernandez’s versatility was also on display where he appeared at every position except for first base, catcher, and pitcher. Hernandez excelled in his role as a platoon utility player who filled in for players at just about any position on the field.  Thanks to his tremendous success at the plate, former manager Don Mattingly used him liberally as he was just as good, if not better than the everyday players he was temporarily replacing.  This season has been a totally different story.  Over 127 at-bats, Hernandez has put up a measly .189/.280/.346 slash line with five home runs and only 12 runs batted in.  Against lefties he has been decently effective with a .787 OPS, but much of that is attributed to his four home runs and high walk rate against southpaws.  The injury that has landed him on the DL could be a contributing factor to his struggles as it was revealed that it had been bothering him for a few weeks before going on the DL June 29th, but his 2016 season has so far been extremely underwhelming.

Taylor, on the other hand, had a very disappointing 2015 season with the Mariners where had a disastrous .443 OPS over 94 at bats causing many within Seattle’s organization to write him off.  Coming off of his strong 2014 season where he was 1.5 wins above replacement in only 136 AB’s, 2015 was a significant step backward.  This season, he was traded to the Dodgers where he has gotten a chance to redeem his poor performance in 2015 thanks to Hernandez’s injury.  So far, he has not disappointed with a strong .292/.320/.625 slash line in 24 at bats.  In AAA, Taylor has been even better, putting up an .863 OPS with 22 doubles and 13 stolen bases.  In the past three seasons where he has largely shuttled between AAA and the big leagues, Taylor has recorded a .315/.393/.463 slash line at the highest level of the minors.  Although not as versatile as Hernandez, Taylor has played third base, second base, and shortstop already in the short time he has been with the Dodgers.  Thanks to his excellent minor league track record and strong 2014 season with the Mariners, it is not out of the realm of possibility to expect Taylor to put up about a .280 average and a .340-.350 on-base percentage.  With Hernandez’s consistent struggles and injuries this season, if Taylor can post those averages, the former Mariner could emerge as a better option than Kike over the second half of the season.

As long as Hernandez stays on the DL—which could be for a while longer with Dave Roberts recently saying that he is still experiencing pain in his side—Taylor will continue to fill his role for the Dodgers.  Although the sample size is incredibly small, Taylor has been very successful thus far, and if it continues, Hernandez may not have a major league roster spot upon his return from the DL.  Taylor is a good line-drive hitter who has very little power, but has good plate discipline, can hit for average, is good with the glove at a premium defensive position in SS, and has above average speed.  Additionally, Taylor does not have nearly the extreme platoon split that Hernandez carries, increasing his overall effectiveness when having to fill-in for both left and right-handed hitters.  Some people may overlook Taylor’s strong start in 2016 due to his extremely poor 2015 season, but last year he was a huge victim of bad luck.  Taylor had a solid line-drive percentage of 24.2% and a hard hit rate of 36.9%.  Hernandez, on the other hand, had rates of 23.4% and 33.3% in the same categories while also having an inflated .364 BABIP.  Hernandez seemed a prime candidate for some regression coming into the season (not to the extent it has happened though) while Taylor was clearly a victim of bad luck.  So far this season, while Taylor’s line drive rate has declined, his hard contact rate has increased, while Hernandez has seen a similar effect on his peripheral hard-contact rates.  Taylor’s 2015 stat-line does not appear to be an accurate barometer of his true abilities at the plate, and 2016 could be a repeat of 2014 where he is able to produce numbers similar to his solid minor league production.

Despite his poor 2015 season, Taylor can clearly handle himself with the bat.  He may be a much different hitter than Hernandez who offers far more power, but Taylor is effective at the plate and on the base paths.  In terms of defense, Taylor was well known throughout his time in the Mariners system for having a strong glove that plays in the major leagues across the infield.  His arm is not particularly strong thus limiting how much time he will likely see at third base, but he is good enough with his glove to play the infield effectively.  Hernandez, on the other hand, is more of an outfielder and second baseman who is definitely a bat first player.  Unfortunately for Kike, the Dodgers have good depth at second base with Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick, and Scott Van Slyke is a very good platoon outfielder against left-handed pitchers.  As a result, Taylor’s superiority at the premium infield positions with the glove may give him an upper hand over Hernandez in defensive value.  At the plate, Hernandez has more potential than Taylor, but if Taylor continues to hit, the Dodgers may lean towards going with the hot hand rather than relying on Hernandez to bounce back from his early season struggles.  Much is yet to be determined with Hernandez’s return date still very much up in the air, but Taylor may be able to force himself into the reckoning over Hernandez if his hot start continues.  At 52-40 in the thick of a playoff race, the Dodgers need to have the best 25 players at the major league level through the rest of the season.  If Taylor can continue to produce, the Dodgers’ front office may decide Hernandez is no longer a part of that 25.

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