Opinion

Hernandez Has Earned His Spot In 2017

cesarhernandez-300x168.jpgHeading into this season, there was around a 50 percent chance that Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis would remain the Phillies’ double play combination into October. Most likely, many thought, J.P. Crawford would enter the picture – even for a September call up – and begin shoving one of the two Venezuelan infielders out of the way.

That probably won’t happen now, and Hernandez and Galvis – who have played together and have been friends since they were teenagers – will get to finish this season together in the middle infield.

Both are having interesting seasons. For Galvis, it’s a wild spike in power despite no other offensive improvement. For Hernandez, it’s more power, more patience and better technique. Everything’s just better.

Hernandez has put up good numbers this season: .289/.360/.393, 6 HR, 14 2B, 9 3B. Those numbers will play for a light-hitting middle infielder. The past knock on Hernandez was his mediocre offense couldn’t make up for his average defense and poor baserunning skills. Now, essentially, the offense is making up for it. Hernandez wasn’t even one win over replacement in 2015; this year, he’s 2.4 wins over replacement, good enough to be an everyday starter (albeit a bottom-of-the-order starter on a loaded team).

Defensively Hernandez is still restricted to second base, but he’s improved. While defensive stats should never be completely trusted, Hernandez’s 9.2 defensive runs above average rating is fourth among all second sackers, as is his 7.3 ultimate zone rating (Hernandez is about 7 defensive runs better than the average player at his position [for reference, Daniel Murphy of the Nationals has a -6.5 UZR]).

The baserunning remains an issue. Hernandez exhibits regular lapses on the basepaths, and regularly fails to read the ball correctly (it happened Monday night on a Roman Quinn double, for instance). His 17 stolen bases against 11 caught stealing attempts, while a small sample, is a decent read of his prowess. Hernandez may have good speed, but he has terrible instinct.

The arrival of Quinn, and pending arrival of Crawford, could actually help Hernandez here. Both Quinn and Crawford are better baserunners, and both have the ability to hit for contact and power, being better fits for the top of the order. Hernandez’s offensive improvements are solid, but he still looks more like a classic bottom-of-the-order player. He’s the type who can move to second on a pitcher’s bunt or a speedy leadoff hitter’s infield single. Hernandez probably shouldn’t have agency on the basepaths. But. elsewhere, he has value.

See, when looking ahead, we primarily assumed Galvis would remain an infield starter, simply moving to second base when Crawford was ready for the majors. Galvis is a superior defender but a terribly inferior hitter. Sure the power spike is nice, but Galvis is at more than 1,700 plate appearances. His patience has declined. His pull ability isn’t enough to make up for his other offensive faults. Hernandez, meanwhile, has accrued 1,245 appearances, a full season short of Galvis. And he’s improved steadily each year.

Cesar Hernandez has earned the opportunity to start at second base for the 2017 Phillies. He has exceed expectations for 2016 and, for now, is an everyday starter.

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