Pittsburgh Pirates: Two Players Making the Most of Winter League Action

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates
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Left-handed reliever Jose Hernandez

Alcantara’s Licey teammate, left-hander Jose Hernandez, seems to be making the most of his opportunities in winter ball. Hernandez, who was picked by the Pirates in the Rule 5 Draft before the 2023 season, was a pleasant surprise in the first half of the season (4.67 strikeouts per walk and a 1.024 WHIP), but he regressed after the All-Star Break (2.13 strikeouts per walk and a 1.75 WHIP).

In some ways, Hernandez’s LIDOM season has mirrored his rookie performance in the Majors. He started the winter season on a hot streak, tossing 1 ⅔ hitless innings across three outings. He struck out the four of the first five batters he faced; two of those strikeouts came with runners in scoring position.

Hernandez then fell into the tendency that got him in trouble during his rookie season. When working ahead in the count, as he did on all four of those strikeouts, Hernandez tends to use his devastating slider, but when he falls behind, he resorts to his four-seam fastball, a pitch that yielded an opponent’s batting average of .322 in 2023.

In Hernandez’s winter league outings, 10 appearances as of December 27, he has gotten ahead of the batter in nine of 26 at-bats. Those nine at-bats have resulted in seven strikeouts, a fielder’s choice, and a pop up. When Hernandez has fallen behind the batter or allowed the batter to work the count even, he has issued three walks, hit two batsmen, and allowed two earned runs. 

While the Dominican League does not publish records of pitch-by-pitch analysis, Hernandez’s Major League results support this correlation between his effectiveness and working ahead in the count. When Hernandez fell behind in the count, opponents recorded an on-base percentage of .507. When the count was even, batters’ on-base percentage dropped to .308, and when Hernandez attacked the zone and got ahead, he limited hitters to a .157 on-base percentage.

Admittedly, the sample size in both the majors (50 ⅔ innings) and LIDOM (six innings) is small, but Hernandez is still a young, promising reliever, especially when he attacks the zone. His slider capacity to make batters look foolish, especially as a strikeout pitch. The Pirates’ bullpen is relatively thin when it comes to lefties, so he should have a chance to continue to prove himself in 2024.