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In 2017, a real outfield emerged from the mess

Through Wednesday we’ll be tackling some of the bigger questions we had going into the 2017 season. 

Our second question: How are the Phillies going to sort out a crowded outfield situation?

For the first time since Jayson Werth left for Washington, the Phillies are going into next season with three legitimate outfielders. It may seem silly but, remember, this is a team that had Peter Bourjos and Cedric Hunter in the opening day lineup just a season ago.

Overshadowed by Rhys Hoskins’ record-breaking debut, Nick Williams rookie campaign was all we hoped for and more. In 83 games, Williams hit .288/.338/.473 with 12 homers and 55 RBI. Stretch those numbers out over a full season and you’re looking at a nearly 25 home run and 100 RBI season. In the other corner is Aaron Altherr, who hit .272/.340/.516 and knocked in 64 RBI and 19 home runs in 107 games. His biggest test is staying healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do yet in his pro career.

And if they don’t work out? The Phillies can give Dylan Cozens a call up, though he had a poor season but could rebound. Or Roman Quinn if he can stay healthy. Or give Cam Perkins another shot. Then you have the likes of Cornelius Randolph, Carlos Tocci and Mickey Moniak being groomed.

And then there’s always Bryce Harper. Or Giancarlo Stanton.

Then there’s the one constant over the last three years: Odubel Herrera. Some people love him, some people … don’t. But no matter how you feel about Odubel Herrera‘s bat flips and baserunning blunders, there’s no denying we have watched the former Rule 5 infielder blossom into an above-average outfielder, both offensively and defensively, over the past three seasons.

Does he sometimes take head-scratching routes to flyballs? Sure. Has he jogged down the first base line when he could’ve beaten out a throw with a just little more hustle? Yep. He is also the same player who often turns at-bats where he’s down 0-2 and looks completely off-balance into a 10-pitch walk. Or slaps a ball a foot out of the strikezone down the right field line for a double – more on that later.

In his first two seasons, Herrera hit .291/.352/.352 with 23 home runs, 90 RBI, and 41 stolen bases. He was rewarded with an offseason deal worth five years and $30.5 million. Then opening day came around and he stumbled and stumbled hard. Through the first 50 games, Herrera hit just .218/.262/.326, striking out 25 percent of the time.

What happened to the spark of energy that fans – and Matt Klentak – saw in 2015 and 2016?

As the weather heated up, however, so did Herrera. The 25-year-old went on to hit .317/.361/.524 the rest of the way and finished the season at .281/.325/.452. Despite playing in 21 fewer games than last year, he hit twice as many doubles (42), drove in a career-high 56 RBI and struck out 126 times, albeit still high but the fewest of his short career.

Defensively he was even better, which probably seems surprising since he often makes things interesting out in center field. His .930 RZR and  9.4 UZR/150 put him in the top ten among outfielders in baseball.

So, what should fans expect next year?

Despite his streaky play, Herrera has overall remained pretty consistent over his first three seasons. If Herrera can regain 2016’s patience at the plate with his newfound ability to stroke doubles, he can be a consistent all-star center fielder. His swing rate outside of the zone increased to 40 percent in 2017, up from 34.6 and 34.8 in 2016 and 2015. In fact, his overall swing rate also increased. Pair that with a three-point decrease (75.3 percent) in contact rate and it’s safe to say he needs to be more selective. As fun it is to see Herrera reach out and slap a ball outside the zone for a hit, he seems to think he can do that with every pitch low and away.

Herrera was the best player on the Phillies for the first two-and-a-half seasons of his career, which was a problem (though not his fault). Now with the emergence of Altherr, Williams and Hoskins, he might not even be the best player in the outfield, let alone the team. That’s obviously a great thing for the Phillies, but even better for a player who tends to let the thoughts between his ears get the best of him. When an entire lineup isn’t dependent on you to get on base, drive in runs and man the outfield, it’s only natural to become more relaxed at the plate.


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