Teoscar Hernández is trying too hard to hit home runs

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners
Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners / Stephen Brashear/GettyImages

One of the biggest stories of the 2023 Seattle Mariners seasons has been the struggles of the offseason additions to the team. Most notably, it has been the struggles of Kolten Wong, who has turned into arguably the worst player in the entire league. However, another massive disappointment that been the development of Teoscar Hernández and his struggles to replicate his previous production. 

So far through 2023, Hernández is slashing .233/.270/.406, translating to a .676 OPS and 89 OPS+. It is the lowest OPS he has had in his career if his production carries through the entire season, and even worse, his 73 strikeouts as of May 28 are the most in the entire MLB. 

While he was traded entirely for his bat, surprisingly, his defense has improved in 2023 thus far. Playing a majority of his games in right field, he has been worth 0 defensive runs saved, meaning he has been a perfectly average defender. Still, that is an improvement from his 192nd-placed -4 DRS in 2022 and 188th-placed -5 DRS in 2018. 

But the Mariners traded for his bat, which produced 10.7 WAR and a 121 OPS+ up until his arrival in the Pacific Northwest. 

There have been several factors in his decline in production, but it seems to boil down to his approach to the plate. Swinging early and often, Hernández is struggling to control the zone. His 38.1% chase rate is the highest of his career by a significant margin and his overall 54.1% swing percentage is also the highest of his career and only the third time it has been above 50%. 

Along with his swing-heavy approach, the potential biggest downfall has been the increased launch angle and decreased walk rate, first with his launch angle, which in 2023 has averaged to 15.1°, up 3.5° from 2022 and his highest since 2020. He has also decreased his already low walk rate to 3.3%, meaning he rarely gets on base if he is not hitting the ball. 

His 2nd percentile walk rate, 5th percentile whiff percentage and 4th percentile strikeout rate are signs of concern for Mariners fans, but still, there are potential signs of hope. He still hits the ball hard (84th percentile hard-hit rate, 85th percentile max exit velocity) and his expected numbers point to at least a little bit of luck could help Hernández a lot. 

Baseball savant’s expected stats have him hitting .253 and slugging .468, which assuming his OBP stayed the same, gives him a slightly more respectable .758 OPS. Alongside his lack of luck, his .688 OPS through his first 50 games of the year is the second-worst start of his career. 

In 2019, he put up a .649 OPS through 50 games. However, he ended the season with a mark of .778 and had 1.4 WAR through 125 games. While that production is still lower than what the Mariners may have hoped for when trading for the righty, at this point, they likely would embrace those numbers with open arms. 

Even so, if he does not fully come back to his form, in the three seasons after that rough 2019, he had a 133 OPS+ and won two Silver Slugger Awards. If the Mariners sign him back to the team after the offseason, he has shown that historically he can bounce back after a lackluster season and become a feared hitter in the middle of a lineup.