Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Your SKO Random Third Baseman of the Day- Jose Hernandez

Name: Jose Antonio (Figueroa) Hernandez
Height: 6'1'' Weight: 180 LB
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Years as a Cub: 1994-1999, 2003

For most of my life, I've been a reasonably statistical fan of the game of baseball. Since the early days of the fuss over Moneyball and Billy Beane, I've been decidedly new school in the importance of OBP and OPS over Batting Avg. and RBIs. There was a time in my life though, when a strong armed, sleek looking shortstop/third baseman with profoundly awful plate discipline teased me with his brief flashes of power and made me think he would be awesome someday. That man's name was Jose Hernandez, and he was not awesome at all. The Cubs first acquired Hernandez in 1994, when I was six years old. The Cubs were awful that year and so the 24 year old Jose got into 56 games that year, including his first 9 starts at third for the Cubs. In 1995 Jose's role expanded to 93 games, including another 10 starts at first base. With the bat that year Jose hit 13 homers in just 245 at-bats! Who cares if he only hit .245? What's a .281 OBP even Mean? Thats a lot of homers! If he was a full time starter he could hit like 30! Then in 1996 I was ecstatic when Steve Buechele was finally gone and Jose was given the opening day start at third! Then of course Jose hit .205 in April and was soon shifted over to shortstop and replaced at third by Leo Gomez, which worked out famously. Jose did get into 131 with 331 at-bats throughout the season as a sub/SS, with and hit a disappointing .242/10/41/.293/.381.

By 1997, Jose had lost both his third base job, now to Kevin Orie rather than Leo Gomez, and the shorstop job to old favorite Shawon Dunston. Hernandez bounced back and forth between short, third, and second during the year, finishing with 12 more starts at third and a better statistical line of .273/7/26/.323/.486.

The outlook for Jose's playing time looked grim before 1998, with Orie entrenched at third, and free agent acquisitions Mickey Morandini and Jeff Blauser at second and short, respectively. Then the season began and both Orie and Blauser blew. The Cubs sent Orie down, and Jose slotted over to third base, where he made 54 starts. When the Cubs acquired Gary Gaetti on the waiver wire to take over the hot corner, Hernandez shifted over to short to replace the atrocious Blauser, and made 37 starts at short. In total, Hernandez' 1998 was his best as a Cub, with 144 games started at third, short, first, second, and in the outfield. He hit .254/23/75/.311/.471 that year, and those 23 homers seemed to vindicate everything I ever thought about his ability. He was a star, I said. 23 homers! That's more than Derek Jeter hit that year! We have one of the best power-hitting shortstops in baseball!

Then 1999 happened and everything went wrong. The Cubs lost 95 games, their lineup and rotation fell apart, and even though Jose was off to the best start of his career, the Cubs of course had to make room for rookie Jose Nieves and Jose was thrown in with Terry Mulholland in a trade to the Braves in which the Cubs acquired Ruben Quevedo, Micah Bowie, and Joey Nation. That's wonderful. Jose finished his last Cubs season (of the 20th century) with a line of .272/15/43/.357/.450 in 99 games, mostly at shortstop, and for the first time in his Cub career he did not start a game at third (naturally, who would need him at third when you have Gary Gaetti and Tyler Houston?). After the Braves, Jose moved on to the Brewers for three years, where he actually put up some decent offensive seasons (including a trip to the All Star Game in 2002), but built upon his reputation as a free swinger with back to back seasons of 180+ strikeouts (in 2002 he finished with 188 after his manager benched him for four of the last five games of the season in order to keep him from breaking the record for most in a season). Jose then started the 2003 season, but wound up Back in Chicago when Mark Bellhorn failed to do anything at third base.
By this point I was old enough to be far, far, far less enthused about Jose in a Cub uniform, and he did nothing to change that opinion in his 23 games with the Cubs that year (13 starts at third), as he hit just .188/2/9/.222/.348. Then on July 23, 2003 Jose did something amazing. He, along with Jim Hendry, singlehandedly convinced Dave Littlefield that he was equal in value to Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton (when one factors in Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback), and he was sent to Pittsburgh. Ramirez of course has solved the Cubs decades long hot corner conundrum. Hernandez of course ground into the double play that clinched the division for the Cubs later that year. After 2003 Jose bounced from the Dodgers to the Indians to the Pirates again to the Phillies before retiring after the 2006 season.