2014 Phillies Report Card: Cesar Hernandez
One of my favorite ever Phillies blog posts is the Generic Game Recap Template posted at The Good Phight by Peter Lyons in 2011. It’s a spot-on script of familiar, frustrating tropes from Phillies losses that season and many others, back when losses were more of an occasional annoyance than an inescapable reality. A particularly funny bit:
the Phillies’ soon found the rally quashed after a double play grounder from [MISCAST AND OVERMATCHED UTILITY INFIELDER OR 4TH/5TH OUTFIELDER]
The Phillies have had plenty of these in recent years. “Hey, it looks like he could probably play [position] so let’s try it, because [injury problems/Rubeness].” This was 2013 for Cesar Hernandez. With Ben Revere healing a broken foot, Hernandez was auditioned in center field in the minors, then brought up to play there for the big club, as the Phillies limped to the finish line in September. It didn’t really seem to work for him. While his speed is unquestionably an asset, Hernandez didn’t demonstrate the ability to take good routes to balls in play, or the type of first step instincts you would hope for.
The Phillies seemed to have taken that to heart for 2014, using him more often off the bench, and limiting him mostly to second base. Still, it’s hard to figure out where Cesar Hernandez fits on the Phillies, and, maybe, on any major league roster. He can’t really be considered a utility player, as he simply doesn’t have the chops to play shortstop, and probably not center. Even in the most generous assessment, his bat doesn’t seem to play anywhere but the most valuable positions, and it’s questionable whether, in 2014, it’s worth holding a roster spot for a strictly backup second baseman. The only place to dream on Cesar Hernandez, then, is playing second base every day, and Chase Utley, at least for the moment, is a Phillie in 2015 and possibly 2016.
Even if Utley is moved off the position or traded, so far Hernandez’s bat doesn’t seem to rate as everyday-caliber. Granted, he’s only logged 256 big league plate appearances, and we can give him some credit for adjusting to a different position in 2013, but he’s frankly looked overmatched. Even in the middle infield it’s difficult to justify rolling out his 76 wRC+ every day, especially on a team like the Phillies, who don’t necessarily have a lot of offense coming from elsewhere in the lineup.
Nobody really expected significant pop from Hernandez, granted, but the biggest component of his minor league success, putting the bat on the ball, hasn’t paid off with the big club yet. Hernandez has put the ball in play at about a league average rate, and getting down the line as well as he does, managed a .321 BABIP. But he struck out in 26% of his plate appearances. When contact is all of what you hang your hat on, it has to be better than that.
Of course, we’re only talking about a half-season worth of plate appearances over 2 years from a 24 year old. It’s not out of the question that he could put it together, and he certainly can seem comfortable at second base, even if the tiny sample metrics don’t agree. But if Chase Utley remains the starting second baseman, the Phillies will have to decide if Hernandez is the best choice for a bench spot. On the other hand, he is out of options, and 2015 does not figure to be a contention year in Philadelphia, so inertia may see Cesar Hernandez getting another shot.