Welcome to another edition of Ruben Tuesdays: A weekly look back at the greatest moves made by the Phillies’ former general manager Ruben Amaro. This week, I’ll discuss the time the Phillies needed a fifth starter, signed a guy who had committed identity fraud and hilarity ensued.
Heading into the 2014 season, the Phillies needed a veteran pitcher to fill out their starting rotation. Amaro went searching through the pool of free agents and decided that the ideal man for the job was former Tampa Bay Ray Roberto Hernandez.
Prior to 2014, Hernandez had endured a very up-and-down career. He finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2007, but he followed that up with two straight seasons of an ERA over 5.00. He rebounded in 2010 and made the All-Star team, but he couldn’t sustain the success. From 2011 to 2013, he was either ineffective or suspended (More on this later).
It looked like the Phillies had gone dumpster diving when they signed him, but they surprised everyone when they said that they were actually optimistic about his chances. Apparently, some of their advanced statistics indicated that Hernandez’s performance hadn’t been quite as bad as it seemed, and they thought there was a chance he might improve.
This came as a huge shock, because the Phillies hadn’t exactly embraced the use of advanced statistics in their operations. In fact, they had pretty much mocked the use of analytics. But apparently times were changing in Philadelphia, and the team was going to start using criteria besides the intuition of their scouts when making personnel decisions.
After performing a Yahoo! search to figure out exactly who the team’s new pitcher was, fans learned that Hernandez not only pitched poorly for most of his career, but he also used to pitch under a different name. While living in the Dominican Republic, in an attempt to make himself more appealing to scouts, Hernandez had faked his age and identity. He took on the guise of Fausto Carmona, whose birth certificate indicated that he was three years younger than he actually was. The gamble paid off, as he was signed, and eventually made it to the majors. In 2012, he was suspended for identity fraud, but that was a small price to pay.
As Amaro predicted, Hernandez’s performance improved in the 2014 season. He was no ace, but his 3.87 and 1.5 WAR in 23 games was certainly acceptable for a back-of-the-rotation starter. There were even a few genuine highlights mixed in.
Last Phillies pitcher to go 8 (but not 9) on fewer than 90 pitches was Fausto "Roberto Hernandez" Carmona in July 2014https://t.co/ejIidXSWKw— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) August 5, 2018
At midseason, the Phillies were out of contention, and the Dodgers were desperate for starting pitching. The Phillies sent Hernandez to Los Angeles in exchange for two minor league prospects: Relief pitcher Victor Arano and infielder Jesmuel Valetin. Both spent the majority of the 2018 on the Phillies’ major league team. While Valentin is likely a replacement-level player, Arano showed signs that he could be a solid reliever going forward.
When the Phillies traded Roberto Hernandez to LA in August 2014, they got back Victor Arano and Jesmuel Valentin — who are now both in the majors. One of the best returns imaginable for 2 months of a borderline No. 5 starter at the end of his career— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) April 29, 2018
In the end, the Roberto Hernandez signing should be viewed as a huge success for Amaro and the Phillies. We had some laughs, got some mildly effective pitching, and most importantly, received two major league players when trading him away.