Blue Jays right fielder Teoscar Hernandez slides to stop single by the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber during the fifth inning of a game Sept. 20, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Blue Jays right fielder Teoscar Hernandez slides to stop single by the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber during the fifth inning of a game Sept. 20, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Analysis: Is Teoscar Hernandez an upgrade for M’s in RF?

There’s some debate as to whether the slugger is a significant upgrade over the departed Mitch Haniger.

  • By Adam Jude The Seattle Times
  • Wednesday, February 15, 2023 4:31pm
  • SportsMariners

By Adam Jude / The Seattle Times

In Toronto, Teoscar Hernandez blossomed into an All-Star outfielder with big power, a big smile and a big personality.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Julio Rodriguez rocketed to superstar status in Seattle in similar fashion last year, leading the Mariners back to the postseason and a playoff series win over Hernandez and the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Now, Rodriguez and Hernandez are teaming up in Seattle with a chance to become one of the most fearsome outfield tandems in baseball. Expectations are big, indeed.

And there they were together in late January, flexing and smiling as they posed for a picture Rodriguez posted on social media from a workout in Tampa, Florida.

“When I see what this team is capable of, it’s pretty awesome,” Hernandez said after the Mariners traded for him in their splashiest offseason acquisition. “Now being a part of that, it’s exciting for me. I couldn’t be any happier than this.”

As valuable as Eugenio Suarez was on the field as a trade acquisition last year, his presence in the clubhouse proved just as important. The Mariners expect Hernandez to have a similar influence.

It helps, too, that Hernandez has recent playoff experience, in 2020 and 2022. He hit two mammoth home runs against the Mariners in Game 2 of their wild-card series in Toronto, before the Mariners’ unlikely comeback to clinch the series win.

“All of our research, all of our background, everyone we talked to (said) he was just a high-quality human being, someone who could really contribute to our culture in a positive way,” Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said in November. “I’m sure a part of that will be that he’s done big things in big moments with 45,000 people there.”

Hernandez will take over for Mitch Haniger as the Mariners’ regular right fielder, and he’ll bat somewhere in the middle of the lineup. One interesting tidbit: On Hernandez’s Baseball Reference page, the player he is most “similar” to is … Haniger.

Hernandez is 30 years old, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. What are reasonable expectations for the right-handed slugger in 2023?

Hernandez had his best full season in 2021, when he was named an AL All-Star and a Silver Slugger award winner after hitting 32 home runs with 116 RBIs and 12 steals with a .296/.346/.524 slash line and a FanGraphs Wins Above Replace of 4.3 in 143 games.

In 2022, he was slowed by an April oblique injury, and wound up hitting 25 home runs with a .267/.316/.491 slash line and a 2.4 fWAR in 131 games.

For 2023, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPs projections are rather modest for Hernandez: .253/.308/.462, 22 2B, 29 HR, 78 runs, 86 RBI, 38 BBs, 155 Ks (2.0 WAR).

So there is at least some debate about just how much of an upgrade Hernandez could be for the Mariners.

“Teoscar Hernández is a fine short-term fill-in,” Szymborski wrote for FanGraphs, “but it feels like a top team would have him as the weakest player in the lineup.”

There is no debate, though, about the one thing Hernandez does well. He hits the ball hard. Very, very hard. And in today’s game, many teams value that as much as anything in a hitter’s profile.

Here’s where Hernandez ranked in 2022 among MLB batters in hard-hit metrics, via Baseball Savant:

— Hard hit rate: 5th (53.3%)

— Average exit velocity: 11th (92.6 mph)

— Barrels per plate appearance: 11th (9.7%)

— Expected slugging percentage: 13th (.501)

For comparison, here’s where the top Mariners ranked in the same metrics:

— Hard hit rate: Rodriguez, 14th (50.7%)

— Average exit velocity: Rodriguez, 22nd (92.0 mph)

— Barrels per plate appearance: Cal Raleigh, 12th (9.4%)

— Expected slugging percentage: Raleigh, 42nd (.461)

One added bonus for the Mariners: Hernandez loves to hit at T-Mobile Park.

In 16 games he’s played in Seattle, Hernandez has hit .357 with 20 hits, three homers, seven doubles, 22 strikeouts and four walks in 60 plate appearances. His 1.079 OPS in his highest in any AL park.

“I love this stadium so much,” Hernandez said Wednesday during the Mariners media day luncheon at T-Mobile Park. “… There’s not any reason in particular. I just enjoy playing and hitting here.”

Hernandez played 117 games in right field in 2022. The Mariners are likely projecting him to play there for roughly same amount this year, with Sam Haggerty, AJ Pollock and Taylor Trammell, among others, in the mix for part-time starts in right.

Hernandez will also be part of the rotation at designated hitter.

Hernandez said he’s gotten to know Rodriguez better during their recent workouts in Tampa. They’ll get the chance to know each other even more when they play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic next month.

“I’m trying to get a good relationship (with him). Obviously, he’s eight years younger than me,” Hernandez said. “I’m trying to learn from him, and I’m trying to teach him everything that I know, to pass (to) him and to try to see what we can do together.”

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