After not starting on Opening Day, Odubel Herrera reached base in the Philadelphia Phillies next 44 games. Having reached base in the final game of the 2017 season, Herrera made himself an early National League MVP candidate by beginning the season with the fourth-longest on-base streak in franchise history.
But by the All-Star Break, not only was Herrera not an MVP candidate, but he wasn’t deemed worthy by voters of making his second National League All-Star team in in three years. His batting average, which peaked at .361 on May 17, plummeted to .275 by the All-Star Break, despite him hitting six home runs in seven games between June 15 and June 22. And after the All-Star Break, Herrera, who will turn 27 in December, looked lost at the plate, slashing .214/.279/.342 with a .622 OPS. Herrera went from one of the National League’s best players in the first two months of the season to often being displaced from center field – either to a corner outfield spot or the bench – by Roman Quinn in the final two months of the Phillies season.
A bipolar bat has defined Herrera for his first four major league seasons. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak joined Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie on SportsRadio 94 WIP Thursday and when asked what Herrera can do to become a more consistent player, Klentak pointed out that from a year-to-year standpoint, Herrera has been fairly consistent.
“There’s two different types of consistency – there’s the game-to-game, week-to-week, month-to-month type and I know Odubel is prone to very hot streaks and very cold streaks,” Klentak said. “There’s also the year-to-year consistency. And this is a guy in his first four years in the big leagues that’s posted an OPS somewhere between .730 and .780, which is a pretty narrow band for a full season of OPS. His profile is changing a little bit, he was more of a speedy type in his early years and he’s growing into much more power now – he obviously had a career-high in the home run department this year, among other things. It’s hard playing a full season’s worth of games for a position player, you’re gonna be prone to hot-and-cold stretches, just like every player.”
It is true that over the course of a full season, every player goes through hot-and-cold stretches. But Herrera, in April, the first full month of the 2018 season, hit .367. In September, as the Phillies playoff hopes dwindled, he hit .171 and struck out 18 times in 70 at-bats. As Phillies Nation‘s Matt Veasey put it early this year, calling Herrera mercurial as a player would be the understatement of the year.
In 2017, Herrera hit .167 and struck out 30 times in a month of May where the Phillies went 6-22. After the All-Star Break, he hit .323 with a .928 OPS. In April of 2016, he provided a spark to the Phillies lineup, walking 23 times in April. Since then, the most that he’s walked in an individual month was 11 times, which came the very next month. In 2017, he walked 31 times the entire season.
The other thing about Herrera is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to when these hot-and-cold streaks come. Ryan Howard, for example, would have hot-and-cold streaks. He was prone to starting slowly in April, but often carried the team to the playoffs with his bat in September. Herrera, meanwhile, did hit six home runs in seven games in June of 2018, but hit just one home run the rest of the month and finished June with a .236 batting average.
It was one thing for the Phillies to ride out Herrera’s hot-and-cold streaks when they weren’t contending. But in 2018, there were times where Herrera was the Phillies best hitter. There were other stretches where he was the least effective player on the 25-man roster. It’s difficult to count on a player like that to be one of your best players during a pennant chase, as the Phillies found out late in the season.
Still, Klentak says he doesn’t believe Herrera is a finished product yet.
“The more experience that Odubel gains, he’s still just 26 years old, the more experience that he gains in this league getting to know how he responds to certain events, what he can do to stay in hot streaks, what he can do to limit cold streaks, I think he’s just going to get better at that naturally,” Klentak opined. “That’s not to say that we can’t help him with some coaching and some other things, but I think he will get better. But I just don’t want to lose sight of the fact that this guy, year-over-year, has been pretty consistent.”
Herrera’s talent is undeniable, though after four full seasons of his career, it’s fair to wonder just how much is going to change. He’s had 2,353 career plate appearances and his hot-and-cold streaks were as pronounced as ever in 2018. Coaching can help, but Herrera has had three different managers and three different hitting coaches since he entered the league. While players like Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams have shown a willingness to adjust their offensive approach, Herrera’s has pretty much stayed the same. When he’s locked in, he’s one of the best hitters in the league. When things aren’t going well for Herrera, he looks distant at the plate and likely to swing at pitchers in the dirt.
Klentak, of course, has nothing to gain out of pointing any of this out publicly. Given Herrera’s team-friendly contract (he’ll make just $5 million in 2019), the Phillies could still look to find a trade partner this offseason, especially if they make an external addition to the outfield. If not – and this feels more likely given that Herrera’s trade value is probably as low as it could be currently – Herrera will be on a 2019 Phillies team with playoff aspirations. Perhaps given his tendency to be streaky and Quinn’s health history, the two wouldn’t be bad insurance policies for each other. But if feels like if Quinn is healthy to start the 2019 season, it will be him, not Herrera, starting in center field.
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