Commentary

Commentary: Addressing Odubel Herrera’s miscues head-on

I have a problem. I’m often unable to take my focus off something.

Sometimes that’s a good thing – currently I’m signed on to write a massive travel guide about the Appalachian Trail, due out in 2019. Much of my research involves getting in the car and driving to some part of the eastern portion of our country, hiking, and stopping at dozens of restaurants, hotels, shops and more. It’s only me, a folder and a notebook, and my job is to talk to people and gather as much information as necessary. For this job I’m well qualified, and for those 14 or so hours each day that I’m working, the only thing I’m doing is working. There’s no time for distraction or diversion. And so it works.

But sometimes my intense focus isn’t so good, like when I’m so focused on finishing a job that I stretch out the time necessary to pick up my daughter from day care. Sure I never get there late since I hustle to the day care center like a madman.

I like games and leisure activities, like simulating baseball seasons on computer games, but that’s another place where my focus becomes a flaw. I can get so lost in diversion that it encompasses a half day, and only a slap of cold water to the face will stop my habit. Sometimes I can simply get lost in my own mind, talking to myself as the world passes by, jobs are left unfinished and people are left unanswered.

I’ve acknowledged this problem. I’ve seen a therapist (for this and other reasons). And, thankfully, my wife is a born organizer and planner. If I forget to track my invoices because I was too busy doing something else for too long, she’s right there to ask me the tough questions to get me back on the straight road.

I can’t just fix the problem, but by acknowledging it and working on it, I hope to gradually improve.

The stakes facing me in working on this problem are great; while I’ve never even mildly affected anything, my performance impacts the amount of money I bring in (as a self-employed writer), which impacts the everyday financial wellness of my family, which impacts the everyday overall wellness of my family. Also, my work goes to editors and publishers whose job status depends on whether the content they plan is produced at a high level. It’s always in my head that other people depend on me all the time. That helps to focus me. And so, I get the work done on time. But sometimes it isn’t easy – a round of simulation baseball calls to me, or the sunny afternoon leads me to a baseball game when I should rather be resting and planning future work. Once I focus, it’s hard to remove.

Friday night in Washington, Odubel Herrera was doing his usual thing in an at bat against Max Scherzer. Putting his hand up to home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, as he always does, he was telling the umpire he wasn’t ready to hit yet. But he was in the box, and so Scherzer blazed a strike past him, right over the plate. Kellogg called Herrera out on strikes. He was miffed.

Earlier in the game, Michael Taylor hit a liner toward Herrera, who moved in, thinking he’d be able to catch the ball. He jumped – possibly realizing he came in too much – and the ball sailed past his glove. Then Herrera jogged to the fence to corral the ball. His response wasn’t fast enough to stop Taylor from sliding in safe for an inside-the-park grand slam.

It’s what we see

These two miscues paint a perfect portrait of what’s difficult to negotiate with Herrera. He’s a phenomenal baseball player, gifted in the box as demonstrated by his current 21-game hitting streak and season line of .291/.336/.468, which is almost exactly in line with his career averages. He’s also a terrific outfielder, improving immeasurably since moving to the outfield in 2015. But the miscues can be very hard to accept. Why does he think he can linger in the box? Why does he think he’s entitled? Why does he stop hustling? Why can’t he give 110 percent all the time?

As I’ve said before, these are valid criticisms, since the game has set up for us this idea that players should play by certain rules, and that players should also be playing at a high level all the time. I don’t necessarily agree with the criticisms that often, but they’re certainly valid.

I don’t know what goes on in Herrera’s head – nobody knows but him, and anyone who attempts to extract his thinking is misguided and playing a fool’s game. But I do know that I can get lost in my own head a lot; my focus has hurt me professionally and socially, and when I watch Herrera strike out while thinking he could dictate the plate, I immediately think of my focus problem. And when I watch Herrera misplay a ball and then jog to retrieve it, I think about how I can lapse when I’m focused on something else, how I curse myself that I let myself slip and then stew about it for hours.

Some would say Herrera has no excuse for these mistakes – he’s earning $1.6 million this year and plenty more in the future – but money doesn’t immediately scrub a brain clean from making miscues. And he may be a top-shelf athlete, one of the best in the world at what he does, but I’m a pretty damn good writer, and I’m pretty guilty of making mistakes.

It sucks. It really sucks to see a player hurt his team, and in baseball it’s plainly obvious when someone hurts his team. It’s a team sport but the performance is individual, and so the spotlight shines harsh on Herrera when he doesn’t run to the bag or the ball sails past him. We see it, we chide him, we wish for his dismissal to triple-A or even off the team entirely.

But that’s when we lose focus of the total picture, or to be blunt, that’s when we have anti-Herrera tunnel vision. Herrera provides far more good for this team than bad, and as long as he’s easily the most consistent, best hitter on this club, it’s hard to be right about dismissing him because of a couple mistakes.

Again, it sucks. I wonder if Herrera thinks the same thing when the game is long gone and the microphones are removed from his face. I definitely think about my problem a lot.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Keg

    September 9, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Explain to me again how he’s our best player. Is it because he’s the only one with a contract beyond this year? The fact he has hit in 21 games or that he’s the only one who had close to a .300 average last year. He’s not even our best outfielder let alone player. I think he can be a building block, but he’s probably the 5th best player the Phillies have right now. I understand a player having a bad game or a lapse here or there, but he does it more often than most. I think eventually he’ll be an above average left fielder that bats 6th in the lineup and we’ll be happy to have him, but please quit calling him our best player. Thank you, and GO PHILLIES!

    • schmenkman

      September 11, 2017 at 9:33 am

      Let’s ignore where he ranks on the Phillies, because that’s a shifting landscape. I might actually call Nola their best player anyway.

      But I look at it this way: Overall, Odubel is one of the best center fielders in the game.

      That’s based on WAR, and it’s with all (or essentially all) of his gaffes factored in. Every time he misplays a ball, it reduces his WAR. Every time he seems to not focus in an at bat, it reduces his WAR. Every base running mistake reduces his WAR, etc.

      There is Trout in a class all his own, and then far below him there is a second tier that includes Herrera. Some in that second tier might be a bit better, but there isn’t one CF other than Trout who is clearly a better CF than Odubel.

  2. Mike Fassano

    September 9, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    I agree that his future is probably in left field, but try to convince Pete of that. Garry Maddox not only knew where he was supposed to play, but he also directed the other two outfielders on where to play. I don’t see that ability ever being a part of Herrera’s game.
    I’ve read dozens of angry comments today. Half were angry that this continues to happen with Odubel, and want him gone, the other half were angry at the first half for suggesting such a thing. Your solution of left field is the best of both worlds.

    • schmenkman

      September 11, 2017 at 9:36 am

      Mike, as I said elsewhere, statistically he’s been one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.

      I don’t understand in the least the desire to move him out of that position, where he is still learning but is already among the best.

  3. bruce

    September 9, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Stats are there to rightfully suggest Herrera as the most consistent and productive hitter on the team. His talent is such that there are scouts who feel he may win a batting title in the very near future. He has not reach his prime years and so a lot is expected of him and the primary reason for his 5 year contract he signed during the off season. The outfield was not his natural position but he willingly learned and adapt as an centerfielder. He improved in leaps and bounds the past two years in the outfield. He made some outstanding fielding gems as well as some miscues basically due to misjudgments. However, we are seeing less and less of those type of errors. Every ballplayer has their own style of approach to hitting in the batting box. His stance and mental approach is unique to him. However, his preparation time before each pitch is nothing new in this grand history of MLB. How often we see players today walked away from the plate after each plate and fiddled with their gloves, uniform and take practice swings (smile). So let us give Herrera his due credit as a most talented player on the team.

  4. Mike Fassano

    September 9, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    He’s the best hitter on the team, and nobody’s doubting that. His athleticism and speed has enabled him to overcome a lot of misjudged fly balls. My point is that he’s a natural born hitter, but not a natural born centerfielder. Catcher, Shortstop, Second Base, and centerfield are the backbone of the teams defense, and Herrera is the weakest link. He can be a very good left fielder, or an average (at best) centerfielder. You decide.

    • denzen

      September 9, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      So Mike, who do the Phils have catching that is a stronger link at that position than Herrera is in center.?

  5. denzen

    September 9, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Apparently he finished in the top 5 for gold glove in centerfield last year, so I don’t know. Maybe down the road the Phils will find someone better suited to play center. He does not seem like the leader type, but he is worth watching. When he makes me crazy I think about what Keith Hernandez said, “He’s goofy.” I can live with all that.

  6. T Martin

    September 9, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    He’s a dumber version of Jose Reyes stuck in CF. that doesn’t sound great to me and probably doesn’t sound great to anybody else but I think it’s pretty accurate so if you expect anything better than that out of him that’s on you.

  7. Keith L

    September 9, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    If Roman Quinn showed the ability to stay healthy, I would love to see the Phillies try to trade Herrera in the offseason. Quinn is an outstanding defensive CF who can run. Herrera should move to a corner OF spot or move on.

    • schmenkman

      September 11, 2017 at 9:38 am

      “Herrera should move to a corner OF spot or move on.”

      Lol huh? He’s been one of the best defensive CFs in the league this year, even with the occasional misplay factored in.

    • denzen

      September 16, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      “Odubel is the Mercedes. His occasional gaffe is the busted sideview mirror.” Schmenkman Roman Quinn is like the British MG Sports Car. It looks real cool when it is on the road, and it downshifts like a champ, but most of the time it is broken down in the garage.

  8. Keg

    September 9, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Both Altherr and Williams are better centerfielders. I didn’t say to get rid of him. I said he’s not our best player or hitter. There’s nothing wrong with him being our left fielder, and to the the person who asked about the catcher. Alfaro has the ability to be a difference maker, and I mean all over. He already has that get the contact when we absolutely need it ability. He’ll be our number 5 on the order in a year or 2. Go Phillies

    • schmenkman

      September 11, 2017 at 9:39 am

      Altherr and Williams may look smoother but the stats say they are not as good as Herrera in CF.

  9. gerald Cannon

    September 9, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Every player makes mistakes but not hustling after the ball that he missed was inexcusable. He should have been pulled out of the game mid inning.

  10. Milton Trachtenburg

    September 10, 2017 at 7:26 am

    The wonder and the horror of David Odubel Herrera is that what you see is what you are going to get. Now we see why this marvelous athlete was exposed to the rule 5 draft. This is the real “million dollar bat with a ten-cent head.” On a losing team, his mistakes are tolerable because they are going to lose anyway. However, when the Phils reach a point of being able to compete every day, you can’t have a player who is a ticking time bomb of knuckleheaded acts. You hope he will grow but this is a guy who hears a different drummer and marches to his own beat. If I were the management, I would give him every possible chance because bats and gloves don’t come that good. But, prepare for the worst — what you see is what you get and be ready to move on from him.

    • denzen

      September 10, 2017 at 11:25 am

      I have been a big defender of Herrera. Play him and live with his wackiness, but I agree if the time comes trade him to fill in a piece on a winning team. If people recall the Phils traded Willie Montanez for Garry Maddox, an important part of the 80 team. Odubel Herrera, he’s got a whole lot of Willie Montanez in him.

  11. Bartleby

    September 10, 2017 at 10:41 am

    OK, anybody can misjudge a line drive. But his loafing to retrieve the ball was inexcusable. He should have been benched for that.

  12. Craig Glessner

    September 10, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Ok so just curious I just checked the stats as of today Odubel has 2 errors. 2 damn errors for the whole year. Yeah he flips his bat too much sometimes he does stupid stuff on the bases but that’s a player you need to get off his back. He reminds me of a much less power hitting Manny Ramirez. Manny never hit near 300 either. We have talent we need arms and somebody to lead this team. Mckanin does more stupid stuff than any of the players, hell I was at the game where Hoskins put a ball in the bushes over center the umps said it didn’t go over and Mckanin wasn’t even going to challenge the call until the fans started yelling. We need a leader to make the Phillies great again

  13. Jeff Orbach

    September 11, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    His bonehead play did not count as an error, it counted as an inside the ballpark HR. Maybe a few more of his “bonehead plays” counted as hits and not errors.

    Unfortunately we have to put up with his bad plays along with his mostly good plays because that’s what he is now.

    Pete should have yanked him right then for not hustling after the ball, like Gil Hodges and Billy Martin did on occasion. In fact I remember seeing the game in 1969 (I think) when Gil Hodges walked out to the field and pulled his best hitter Cleon Jones for not hustling.

    In the end it helped Jones realize he had to hustle everyday.

    • schmenkman

      September 11, 2017 at 8:50 pm

      Errors are a nearly meaningless stat anymore, and most analysts and writers use advanced fielding stats which don’t rely on errors being recorded correctly.

  14. Bob Lowry

    September 11, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    I watched the game on Friday night and had the same observation about his at bat and then not running hard to retrieve Taylor’s line drive. I think he is a talented ball player but in this game he showed that he has traits that mar his performance. When he first was drafted by the Phillies as a Rule 5 player, I questioned why he was available. On Friday night, he answered my question.

    • schmenkman

      September 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm

      That’s like saying I was wondering why that Mercedes was available at pennies on the dollar, and the broken sideview mirror answered my question.

      • loupossehl

        September 12, 2017 at 6:16 pm

        I’ve seen sideview mirrors, and they’re no Odubel Herrara.

        • schmenkman

          September 12, 2017 at 9:17 pm

          Odubel is the Mercedes. His occasional gaffe is the busted sideview mirror.

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