All Star center fielder Odubel Herrera is the straw that stirs the Phillies’ drink. Philadelphia loves the way he grinds out at-bats and passionately claps his hands down the first base line when battling for a walk. The former Rule-5 draft pick finished the 2015 campaign hitting .297 with 30 doubles. Herrera was counted on this year to be a driving force at the top of the order.
Statistically, Herrera is having a good year. The Venezuelan has already topped his home run total from last season with 95 fewer at-bats and is closing in on RBI and runs scored as well. Herrera has also shattered his walk total and matched his stolen bases form last season. This type of production was behind Herrera’s roaring start in 2016. Since the months of June and July, however, something has changed. We haven’t seen the those passionate claps up the first base line as often.
Herrera’s approach through the first month of the season was to wear out opposing pitchers in long at-bats. The month of April yielded 23 walks, good enough for second-best in the entire MLB along with a .313 batting average. Since then, Herrera’s production has decreased drastically. As stated above, Herrera’s batting average was soaring well above .300, even pushing close to .345 in the middle of May. Along with all his walks, Herrera was sporting a .453 OBP on May 15th. With August underway, Herrera’s average has dipped to .283 and his on-base percentage sits at .362.
The left handed swinger’s walk production has likewise decreased drastically since April. After 23 walks that month, May saw eleven walks, and June and July yielded just eight and seven walks, respectively. In April, Herrera led the National League in pitches per plate appearance with 4.7. Each month thereafter saw noticeable declines. In May, Herrera saw a 25% dip to 4.1. It has continued to drop at a more moderate pace to 4.04 today.
Through April, the center fielder was laying off pitches outside the zone, swinging at just 21.3% of those pitches. As the season is progressing, that number has been climbing at a linear pace to 34.1% of swings outside the zone. Not the kind of numbers that will result in solid production.
With such a great start to the season, it is tough sustain the All Star pace Herrera set for himself. Herrera’s great start followed by the proverbial slump through the rest of the year reminds us of former Phillies second baseman, Chase Utley. Utley would come out of the gates firing, then would fizzle out in the middle and end of seasons. Domonic Brown’s All Star campaign was fairly similar too.
The reasons behind the decline are up for debate. Herrera could have changed his approach at the plate, since he has moved lineup positions. Is he more worried about getting on base or hitting for power? Pitchers may have figured him out, throwing him more strikes and making him swing the bat. Whatever it is, Herrera’s success seemed to correlate with him seeing more pitches and making pitchers work. Through the final two months of the season, he’ll have a chance to reclaim his All Star performance and solidify his place on the roster for years to come.