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Phillies Nuggets: Cesar Hernandez is hitting his way into All-Star picture


Cesar Hernandez is in the midst of a strong month of May. (Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

Voting for the 2019 MLB All-Star Game opened Tuesday morning. Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez, a surprise contender for election, perhaps¬†appropriately launched a two-run home run in Tuesday evening’s win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The longest-tenured Phillie is hitting his way into being a serious All-Star Game candidate.

Hernandez, who turned 29 last week, is slashing .349/.402/.566 with three home runs, 14 RBIs and a .968 OPS in May. Either Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Cody Bellinger or Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is likely to win National League player of the month for May, but Hernandez has unquestionably been one of the best offensive producers in the sport this month.

On the season, Hernandez is now slashing .303/.361/.482 with six home runs, 25 RBIs, an .843 OPS and a 1.3 fWAR. His numbers aren’t sexy, but he’s been one of the most productive offensive pieces in a lineup that is littered with players with All-Star Game experience. And he’s doing all this on a team that’s in first place in the National League East.

By a large margin, Hernandez leads all National League second basemen in batting average. While he’s hitting north of .300, no other second baseman on the ballot has a batting average higher than .276. His .361 on-base percentage also leads all National League second basemen, with San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik’s .335 on-base percentage the next best mark. Hernandez is third among National League second basemen in both offensive WAR and fWAR, trailing Ketel Marte of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Mike Moustakas of the Milwaukee Brewers in both categories.

Where Hernandez’s case may fall short is in terms of back-of-the-baseball-card statistics. While he has commanding leads in both batting average and on-base percentage, he’s tied for fourth in RBIs and probably won’t keep pace with Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies – both of whom are within one RBI of Hernandez. Hernandez is also tied with Wong for sixth among National League second basemen in home runs. Given that his career-high in home runs is 15, that’s an area where he’s not going to compete with other All-Star candidates at.

Hernandez will also be hurt by the fact that Moustakas – a natural third baseman – is on the ballot as a second baseman. Moustakas has started five more games (29) at third base than second base in 2019, but has primarily played third base since Travis Shaw went on the injured list with wrist injury earlier this month. Given that the Brewers promoted highly-touted prospect Keston Hiura, a second baseman, in Shaw’s absence, there’s a good chance that Moustakas will have played more games at third base than second base before the All-Star Game. But he’s classified as a second baseman for All-Star Game voting purposes, and while Hernandez trounces him in terms of batting average and on-base percentage, more voters will likely take into account home run and RBI totals – right or wrong – which will give a noticeable edge to Moustakas. Moustakas is also a two-time All-Star that played in two World Series with the Kansas City Royals, so he has much better name recognition than Hernandez, which matters in fan voting.

It’s also a fair criticism that for as strong as Hernandez has been offensively, he’s struggled defensively in 2019. Hernandez has five errors and a -0.4 defensive WAR in 2019, thanks to an uncharacteristically poor start in the field in 2019. Given that Hernandez has graded out as an average-to-above-average fielder for much of his career, it’s fair to think that by the All-Star Game a slow defensive start could just be seen as a blip on the radar. It’s also fair to wonder how many fans voting on the All-Star Game have played particular attention to the defense of All-Star candidates. That area, though, does not add to his case.

But while Hernandez doesn’t have a perfect All-Star Game resume, there isn’t a household name candidate that’s having an overwhelmingly strong season in the National League. Albies is hitting .267 for a Braves team that trails the Phillies in the National League East, Kike Hernandez is hitting just .220 for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Robinson Cano has graded out as one of the worst second basemen in baseball in his first season with the New York Mets.

All-Star or not, Hernandez being in this position for the Phillies is pretty improbable given that the organization has been willing to consider trade offers for him for at least two offseasons. Perhaps, though, you’re seeing why reports indicated that general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies seemed to place a higher value on Hernandez than the rest of the league.

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