2015 Phillies Report Card: Odubel Herrera
Last December, the Phillies selected Odubel Herrera in the Rule 5 draft, using the eighth pick on the second baseman from the Texas Rangers organization. Although Rule 5 draftees rarely turn out to be as successful as Shane Victorino or even Ender Inciarte, and although the Rangers had a deep farm system, it was a bit surprising when the Rangers did not protect Herrera. As a member of the Rangers’ organization, Herrera played mostly second base and finished the 2014 season in AA. Between A+ Myrtle Beach and AA Frisco, in 2014 Herrera hit .315/.383/.388. He led the Texas League in batting average and was named that league’s best defensive second baseman, according to a Baseball America survey. Herrera then traveled to his home country to play in the 2014 Venezuelan Winter League and, while transitioning to a full-time role in center field, hit .372/.432/.556 in 232 plate appearances. Herrera’s offensive outburst placed him third in the league in batting average, and fourth in on base and slugging percentage. Even with the buzz that Herrera brought with him to 2015 Spring Training, it was hard to imagine he would compile a .297/.344/.418 triple slash line in 147 games, log 537 plate appearances, play center field every day, and lead the Phillies in WAR.
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The 2015 Phillies were awful, which is why that WAR leaderboard looks like it has the makings of the bottom half of a good team. Herrera’s 3.8 WAR in his age 23 season is still impressive, and despite relatively small samples, his teammates Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco, and Aaron Altherr all showed tremendous promise in 2015 as well. Herrera’s .333 wOBA, which was 69th in MLB among qualified hitters, contributed to his being one of those very few bright spots on the team.
Now for the elephants in the room. Herrera’s defense in center field was … a project. He was an upgrade over Ben Revere, but that’s hardly an accomplishment, even though Ben Revere is adorable. Herrera (like Revere) sometimes took adventurous routes to fly balls, none more notable than the final out of Cole Hamels’ no-hitter in Wrigley Field on July 25. While the video looks bad for Odubel, he saved the no-hitter by fighting the Wrigley wind to stay with the ball. He also made a nice running catch in the 8th inning. Still, Herrera’s catch to to end the game, according to coach Juan Samuel, “almost gave me a heart attack.” Yeah, him and the rest of Philadelphia.
Herrera’s other issue was his plate discipline. While his surface stats look nice, he struck out 24.0% of the time and paired that with a 5.2% walk rate. Herrera’s strikeout rate was nearly as high as team “leader” Ryan Howard, who posted a baffling 27.4% K rate. Herrera and Howard actually walked at nearly the same rate, with Howard finishing at 5.4% for the season, and Herrera at 5.2%. Odubel’s figure was 12th on the Phillies among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances, and was 112th out of 141 qualified hitters in MLB. Herrera thusly inspires another comparison to Ben Revere, who posted a 5.0% walk rate for the season and whose offensive reputation is of a high-average hitter with a handful of walks sprinkled in for show.
That’s where the negativity and nitpicking end. Herrera’s arm strength and defense both trump Revere’s, and Herrera brings much more power to the plate. His eight home runs in 2015 belie a strong bat, and considering he hit 30 doubles too, Herrera could yoke his strength for 15 home runs next year. Odubel also can run a bit, stealing 16 bases but getting caught eight times last season. His combination of hitting, power, speed, and outfield defense are reminiscent of former Phillies Rule 5 draft pick Shane Victorino, as well as Houston’s Carlos Gomez (both of whom posted lower wOBAs than Herrera in 2015).
Odubel Herrera was the best everyday player on the 2015 Phillies. If the team develops as planned, Herrera will never again be its best player, but he showed in 2015 that he’s absolutely part of the Phillies’ future. He’s likely earned the starting center field spot for 2016, but if not, at the very least he’s made the center field question challenging and intriguing. At age 23, having never played professional baseball above the AA level, Odubel Herrera logged the 30th-best wOBA among all qualified MLB outfielders. That’s striking, and worthy of a commensurate rating.