Analysis

Detailing Odubel Herrera’s Astonishing Development

usa-odubel-herrera-slide_0.jpgIt’s always fun to rewind the proverbial tape and read what I previously wrote. This was about Odubel Herrera in the Offseason 2015 Deep Dive:

Defensively he had his moments, taking circuitous routes to fly balls, but he was practically learning on the job, at the highest level. And as the year progressed, Herrera showed true skill playing the position. According to Baseball Reference, he saved 10 more runs above the average center fielder in 2015. For a rookie playing everyday center for a big-league team, that’s highly impressive.

The offense, too, was impressive. Known for a good contact tool, Herrera showed solid skill there (.297/.344/.418). He also stole 16 bases, being caught eight times. But it was his power that stunned most often: 41 extra-base hits in 537 plate appearances, including 30 doubles and eight home runs. And his home runs were no joke.

Herrera’s biggest weakness is plate discipline: 129 strikeouts, 28 walks. That needs to improve. Because he’s still learning on the job, and pitchers are still adjusting to him, expect his numbers to possibly drop a little in 2016, but hopefully not too much. We’ll go with .280/.330/.415, eight-10 home runs and, hopefully, a K/BB ratio more like 3/1 and not 4.5/1.

That was all relatively accurate, based on statistical trends that included an extensive minor league resume (Herrera had a 120/71 K/BB ratio in 2014 in A+ and AA). Herrera’s biggest offensive issue was his discipline, and if he was to grow he needed to address this issue.

Sometimes it happens, and it’s pretty rare that it happens quickly, but Herrera – through the first half of the 2016 season – has addressed and improved considerably, becoming an all star in his second major league season.

The strikeout numbers are still high (suddenly he has 65 in 362 plate appearances) but the walks are also high (43). It’s nearly twice the amount of his 2015 output already.

Herrera’s patience trend has slowed lately; a pitch-per-plate-appearance mark around 5.0 earlier this season is now at 4.08, pretty close to his 2015 ratio. But he’s traded the patience for a better hitting approach. Already Herrera has 22 extra-base hits including 10 home runs (it seems he’s traded in a few of his doubles for homers). Because of this, his slugging mark is .444, nearly 30 points higher than last year.

In nearly every respect Herrera has improved. Defensively he’s still a work in progress – sabermetrically he’s still somewhere around an average outfielder, though defensive stats are still very difficult to apply – but one might venture that Herrera’s range has shortened this year simply because of the presence of rangier teammates around him (Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel).

So it’s hard to say whether Herrera has improved defensively, but typically he makes the routine plays and covers good ground. If he lapses it’s almost an absurd lapse, which matches the narrative where he’s benched for being lax on certain plays (a narrative we really don’t need to rehash unless more instances occur in the future).

As a runner Herrera still gets caught a little too much on the bases (67 percent success rate on steals), but the Phillies as a team are considerably down in this department this year (36 for 63). It actually calls more into question the Phillies’ overall aggressive philosophy, or even Mickey Morandini as a first-base coach, than it does one player.

So the issues are either in flux or hard to gauge. What we do see is a player capable of slicing singles in any direction, of depositing a double into the gap, but just as often, slamming a ball over the fence. He’s more disciplined at the plate, though he may want to reset a little bit to buck his recent trend, and – as it’s definitely important – he’s a “red-light” player in the vein of Jimmy Rollins.

Herrera is the Phillies’ first aggressive (red-light) player capable of being a regular contributor to wins since Rollins. That’s a group that includes Shane Victorino and Chase Utley. Yes, this is more of a narrative comparison, but Rollins, Victorino, Utley, and now Herrera, are players who seem to start rallies, pump up the team and spur victories. We used to say that if Rollins is hitting, the Phillies are winning. Well, if Herrera is hitting, the Phillies are in a considerably much better position to win.

It’s been a great first half for Herrera. We’re seeing a player develop in real time; there may even be more to come.

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