Teoscar Hernandez was so well-regarded entering the season that when the Blue Jays broke camp in Florida, he didn't make the roster. When he arrived in mid-April to take Josh Donaldson's spot, he was expected to stick around for only a few days until Kendrys Morales returned from the disabled list. When the Blue Jays acquired Hernandez from the Astros last summer, our headline here read: "Toronto gets Aoki, prospect for Liriano."
Needless to say, Hernandez has rarely been at the forefront of anyone's mind. Part of the reason Houston let him go in the first place was that he was buried on the outfield depth chart behind George Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Derek Fisher, Jake Marisnick and top position prospect Kyle Tucker. Hernandez has always been the extra guy, not the guy.
It's time that changed. A month after the Blue Jays promoted Hernandez, he's done more than just "stick around." Until a night off on Thursday, he had started Toronto's previous 30 games, all in the first four spots in the lineup. Hernandez has become the best power hitter on the Blue Jays, at least with Donaldson limited, and because Toronto's lineup has shockingly been the hardest-hitting group in the Majors, that actually says a lot.
Hernandez has actually become one of the hardest-hitting sluggers in the Major Leagues -- and there's some evidence he actually deserves more success than he's found. Here's what you need to know about the Blue Jays' newest slugging star.
Video: KC@TOR: Statcast™ measures Hernandez's 111-mph. homer
1. Hernandez hits hard, but more importantly, he hits hard where it matters.
Hernandez's average exit velocity of 92.5 mph is strong. It's 25th out of 282 hitters who have put the ball in play 50 times, and that's really good. His 52.1 percent hard-hit rate (defined as percentage of balls hit 95 mph or harder) is 15th out of those 282; that's also really good. Hernandez has hit the ball as hard as 112.1 mph this year, and that's a skill most don't have. Only about 20 percent of hitters who have had 10 plate appearances this year have done that. It's a talent.
But we also know that hitting the ball hard in the air is far more valuable than hitting it hard on the ground, because there's only so much damage you can do on the ground. What we're more interested in is how hard you hit the ball when you hit it at an angle that actually matters, which we'll simplify to "line drives and fly balls."
Keeping that in mind, check out this top 10.
Highest average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives in 2018 (minimum 50 at-bats)
102.8 mph -- Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
101.1 mph -- Joey Gallo, Rangers
99.9 mph -- J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
99.9 mph -- Gary Sanchez, Yankees
99.7 mph -- Mike Zunino, Mariners
99.6 mph -- Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays
99.4 mph -- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
99.1 mph -- Pedro Alvarez, Orioles
98.6 mph -- Bryce Harper, Nationals
98.5 mph -- Shohei Ohtani, Angels
MLB average -- 93 mph
That … is an unbelievable list. That's not "Hernandez and nine other guys." That's "10 guys who have proven that they can crush the ball in the air," which is about the most valuable thing you can do.
However, you'll note that Alvarez, for example, is not on the star level. That's partially because his lack of defensive value or foot speed limit him, but it's also because he's long been a high strikeout player. You can't get to elite exit velocity without making contact. Hernandez had that issue in the past, too, but he has brought his strikeout rate down to a league-average 23.6 percent this year.
The way we account for that is with a metric called Expected wOBA, which accounts for both quality of contact and amount of contact (and walks). It gives credit for the skill shown in terms of exit velocity and launch angle, so that even if a batter is robbed of a homer by a great defensive play, he gets a little more than an oh-fer for it. (wOBA is just like OBP, except you get more credit for extra-base hits.)
That being the case, check out this top 10.
Expected wOBA leaders (minimum 100 plate apperances)
.518 -- Mookie Betts, Red Sox
.465 -- Bryce Harper, Nationals
.464 -- Freddie Freeman, Braves
.461 -- J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
.455 -- Kris Bryant, Cubs
.454 -- Mike Trout, Angels
.454 -- Joey Votto, Reds
.451 -- Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays
.443 -- Brandon Belt, Giants
.440 -- Matt Adams, Nationals
MLB average -- .334
That's a list of baseball's top hitting studs. You can't fake your way onto this list -- and don't forget that he bashed eight homers last September, too.
2. Hernandez may actually deserve better production.
There's nothing wrong with a .272/.324/.560 line, of course. On a park-adjusted rate basis, it's one of the 50 best hitting lines of any hitter with 100 plate appearances, though it's notable that it's not the best line on the Blue Jays. (That belongs to Curtis Granderson.)
Now, we noted above that Hernandez had a .451 expected wOBA, a top-10 mark. But his actual wOBA is just .366, tied for 43rd best. The underperformance gap of 85 points is one of the largest in the game. Why?
In part, you can thank some outstanding defense. For example, on May 6, Hernandez absolutely crushed a ball off Rays ace Chris Archer, hitting it a projected 402 feet at 105.4 mph off the bat. It's the kind of ball that has a Hit Probability of more than 92 percent. Mallex Smith had other ideas.
Video: TOR@TB: Smith robs Hernandez with leaping catch
You could say the same about this April 17 line drive, hit at 103.3 mph. That also turns into a hit 92 percent of the time, and often extra bases. Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas turned it into an out.
Video: KC@LAA: Moustakas elevates to take away a hit
Or how about this sensational catch by Betts? On April 24, Hernandez hit a Rick Porcello pitch 100.4 mph off the bat, at a launch angle that makes it a hit about 50 percent of the time. Not when Betts is the right fielder, however.
Video: BOS@TOR: Betts lays out for a fantastic diving grab
Hernandez is crushing the ball. He's got a great line. He might deserve better.
3. Hernandez is part of a shockingly hard-hitting Blue Jays team.
Last year, the Jays had a 33.8 percent hard-hit rate, the 12th best in the Majors. This year? It's better. Much better, in fact, which is partially how they've hit the third-most homers in the game.
This is about Hernandez in part, but it's not just him. Let's take a look at every hitter who had 50 batted balls both in 2017 and '18, all 259 of them, to see who has upped their hard-hit rate the most. Check out how many Toronto players you see in the top 10.
Largest Hard-Hit Rate Increases in 2017-18
+21.8 percent -- Eugenio Suarez, Reds
+19.6 percent -- Yoan Moncada, White Sox
+18.2 percent -- Yan Gomes, Indians
+17.1 percent -- Aledmys Diaz, Blue Jays (23.6 percent to 40.7 percent)
+17.0 percent -- Francisco Cervelli, Pirates
+15.6 percent -- Mitch Moreland, Red Sox
+14.4 percent -- Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays (37.7 percent to 52.1 percent)
+14.3 percent -- Didi Gregorius, Yankees
+14.1 percent -- Mitch Haniger, Mariners
+13.9 percent -- Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays (28.7 percent to 42.6 percent)
That's three Blue Jays in the top 10. Granderson is up by 11 points, for what it's worth, though perhaps no name is more surprising than Pillar, who somehow has 23 extra-base hits, as many as Martinez, tied for seventh most in the game.
It's been a team effort for Toronto, obviously, and it's been necessary. When the season began, we thought we knew who the Blue Jays were. They were expected to have a strong rotation, but a questionable offense. Pillar was going to be a light-hitting defensive star again. Marcus Stroman was going to have another near-ace season in the rotation. The Jays would have a record around .500 in the AL Wild Card race behind the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East.
Nearly two months into the season, the Blue Jays do indeed have a near-.500 record, but that's about the only thing that's happened as expected. Pillar is mashing. Stroman has a 7.71 ERA. And Hernandez -- who was stuck at Triple-A Buffalo behind Granderson, Steve Pearce and Randal Grichuk -- has blossomed into a star. He's been an important part of their season. Hernandez won't be overlooked again.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.