As a fourth outfielder, Gorkys Hernandez is an oddly polarizing figure in San Francisco Giants history. He has struggled considerably with the bat. That has never been his strength. His strength is his glove. However, Hernandez’s bat is now showing signs of life. Can he sustain it?
Hernandez is batting .279 with a .738 OPS on the year. This includes four home runs. None of these numbers are ones fans would normally associate with Hernandez. He is not lighting up National League pitcher. However, he is proving to be a capable bat.
The Giants outfield defense remain an issue, as it did last year. They have solid corner outfielders in Andrew McCutchen and Mac Williamson. Both grade out as average to above-average based on defensive runs saved (DRS).
However, Austin Jackson‘s defense is less than inspiring. His play in center field is eerily similar to Denard Span. Jackson’s defense against the Rockies was noticeably bad. He could not track down several fly balls that many center fielders would catch with ease.
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The Giants may need to consider fixing their center field defense sooner rather than later. But, they have few internal options. Those options are limited to Hernandez and Steven Duggar.
If the Giants do decide to reduce Jackson’s playing time, Hernandez is the sensible choice to fill-in. At best, Hernandez is a marginal improvement in center field statistically. Despite this, based on the eye test, Hernandez has better range and a better arm than Jackson.
The glove is important, but Hernandez’s bat is capturing attention as well. This is a statement most would scoff at prior to this season. But, Hernandez might actually be an okay hitter.
His stats such as batting average and OPS are still in small-sample territory. Also, he could very well be exposed as a hitter, if he receives more playing time.
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Regardless, he is producing some interesting trends. According to Fangraphs, Hernandez’s line drive rate is up, and ground ball rate is down. These are good signs. Essentially, he has turned most of his ground balls from priors years into line drives this season. Line drives are good.
In addition to this, his hard hit rate is much higher than his career norm, and his soft contact rate is down. These are encouraging signs as well.
Hernandez is hitting the ball harder consistently, and putting the ball in the air more frequently. The latter observation is especially important. Baseball is in the midst of the Launch Angle Revolution. As a result, putting the ball in the air is good.
There are some notable red flags as well. Hernandez’s productivity is due in part to his .377 BABIP. This is significantly higher than his .307 career BABIP. So, it is fair to wonder whether his production is legitimate or due to luck from the BABIP gods.
Additionally, Hernandez boasts a 33% strikeout rate. This, too, is unsustainable. Especially, for a player who does not hit with a lot of power.
I am not advocating for Hernandez to become the starting center fielder. However, center field defense is a problem yet again.
Hernandez is showing some new trends with the way he is hitting the ball. This suggests he has made some changes to his swing mechanics. Is his current level of productivity sustainable? It is difficult to say. However, he is deserving of some more at-bats so we can find out.