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Gorkys Hernandez is suddenly really good

I’m not sure how we got here.

San Francisco Giants v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The 2018 San Francisco Giants entered spring training with a gazillion outfield options. Not necessarily good options, but options nonetheless. They signed Austin Jackson, fresh off a very strong offensive campaign, and traded for Andrew McCutchen. They still had veteran Hunter Pence, coming off of a decent finish to the 2017 season. Mac Williamson and Austin Slater appeared ready for bigger roles, Jarrett Parker was out of options, and Steven Duggar was forcing the front office’s hands. And to top it all off, in came Gregor Blanco on a camp invite.

There really wasn’t a lot of room for Gorkys Hernandez, who seemed to represent so much of what went wrong a year ago. Not that Hernandez was actively bad in 2017, he was just wholly uninspiring, and his 348 plate appearances were about 200 more than the team had envisioned. When the lights came on and the entire team scattered for 162 games, Hernandez was one of the few left standing.

And yet here we are. Against many odds, Hernandez broke camp with the team, while Duggar, Williamson, and Slater were sent back to Sacramento, and Parker to nowhere at all. And while it seemed that Jackson and Blanco would platoon in center field until Duggar was ready, that plan was eventually scrapped. For now, at least, it appears that Gorkys Hernandez is the everyday center fielder for the Giants. Jackson has started just twice in the last two weeks, while Blanco has been relegated to bench duty. Even against right-handed pitchers, Hernandez has been getting the starting nod in the middle of the grass.

And somehow it’s working.

Gorkys Hernandez is the best hitter in baseball *

*well, no, not really

We here at McCovey Chronicles like to sprinkle a healthy dose of depression into even our happiest cups of coffee, so rather than tell you how good Hernandez has been, I’m going to tell you how good he’s been in relation to other Giants, so you can choose whether to be encouraged by Gorkys, or despondent about the team in general. Might I suggest the half and half concoction? It’s our most popular option.

Average: Gorkys Hernandez has a higher batting average (.310) than Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, and, well, all but one Giant (three if you count relief pitchers!).

On-base: Gorkys Hernandez has a higher on-base percentage (.341) than Joe Panik, Evan Longoria, and Mac Williamson.

Slugging: Gorkys Hernandez has a higher slugging percentage (.509) than Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Nick Hundley, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, and, well, all but two Giants (three if you count Alen Hanson, five if you count relief pitchers!).

Home runs: Gorkys Hernandez has more dingers (6) than Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, and, well, all but three Giants.

wRC+: Gorkys Hernandez has a higher wRC+ (134) than Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Mac Williamson, and all but one other Giant (three if you count Alen Hanson and Austin Slater, five if you count relief pitchers!)

In related news, Brandon Belt, who almost single-handedly filled out the “and all but X other Giants” portion of this segment, is good at baseball.

So, about that regression

You probably won’t fall off your stool when I tell you that Gorkys Hernandez is not the second-best hitter on the Giants, and in all likelihood won’t end the year as 134% the hitter that the average Major Leaguer is.

There are warning signs all over the place. His BABIP of .400 almost leads the team; shockingly, the one regular player with a higher rate is Jackson.

Hernandez is striking out in 29.0% of his plate appearances, which, for context, is more often that Sandoval. He’s walking in just 4.8% of his appearances, which, for context, is significantly less than Sandoval.

In other words, take one of the sport’s most impressively aggressive and impatient hitters, give him five cups of coffee and play the Jeopardy! theme song loudly, and you’ve got Hernandez. Perhaps not a recipe for sustained success.

Still, good seasons are built on stretches of unsustainability. No pitcher has had a career that was as good as Madison Bumgarner’s 2014 World Series. 2012 NLCS Marco Scutaro would be the greatest player the sport has ever seen.

Hernandez will cool off eventually, probably sooner rather than later. And when it happens, hopefully Jackson or Duggar will be ready to excel, or Williamson or Slater can give CF a shot.

The inevitable demise of “Gorkys Hernandez, Power Hitter” should not keep us from enjoying it while it exists.

Because wow, that really came out of left center field, didn’t it?