Recently, I wrote an article detailing Odubel Herrera’s regression at the plate as the season has progressed. Since then (August 3rd), Herrera has picked it up a bit average wise, hitting .281, but has drawn just seven walks, not what we were accustomed to seeing out of the once leadoff man extraordinaire. On May 23rd, his average stood at .335 with a .445 OBP. Since Herrera’s benching in Detroit on that day, the All Star center fielder is hitting just .254, with an OBP of .315. – that is more than your average “slump”, thus forcing manager Pete Mackanin to remove Herrera from the leadoff role, delegating those duties to second baseman Cesar Hernandez.
Cesar Hernandez has outperformed Odubel Herrera as the leadoff hitter over the course of the season. When looking at the numbers, Hernandez’s stats are head and shoulders above Herrera’s out of the leadoff spot. Hernandez has a better average, OBP, and slugging percentage, albeit in a smaller sample size (147 PA compared to Herrera’s 340). Unlike Herrera, Hernandez has come on strong since June 1st with a .386 OBP.
Earlier in the year, Herrera was excellent at working the pitchers, leading the NL with 4.7 pitches per plate appearance in April. That has since plummeted, which was one of the reasons the Phillies skipper sent Herrera a message earlier in the month, leading to another benching. Whatever message Herrera failed to pick up, Hernandez certainly did. As the leadoff man, the 26-year old second baseman sees 4.09 pitches per plate appearance compared to Herrera’s 3.91.
Herrera has the upper-hand on Hernandez on gap and home run power. But the power Herrera has displayed has not helped him retain the leadoff duties. Hitting for average, getting on-base, and seeing pitches from the leadoff spot is what matters most.
Now that we compared Hernandez to his All Star teammate, how does the Phillies second baseman compare to the National League as a leadoff hitter? For those with over 125 plate appearances, Hernandez is sixth in the NL with a .299 batting average, putting him in elite status, ahead of familiar names such as Matt Carpenter, speedsters Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton, and fellow teammate Herrera. Hernandez’s OBP stands at .390, which is fourth best in the league and once again ahead of many more familiar names, including Herrera. The switch hitter’s pitchers per plate appearance (4.09) is good enough for 5th best in the National League which also contributes to Hernandez’s high walk rate, just shy of 13% – ranks 4th best in the NL.
The one flaw in Hernandez’s game is his questionable baserunning skills. Over the length of the season, Hernandez has stolen 13 bases and has been caught nine times for an unimpressive 59% success rate. What doesn’t show up in the stat sheet is the judgement Hernandez shows when on the bases. This season we’ve witnesses Cesar overrun bases, get picked off, and head-scratching decisions to swipe bags. With more experience, you would assume Hernandez will improve in this area.
You can say what you want, but the numbers don’t lie – Cesar Hernandez is a better leadoff hitter than Odubel Herrera at this point. If Hernandez can sustain this until the end of the season, he will make a strong case to be the everyday, leadoff second baseman next season and beyond.