Don’t Go Soft On Odubel

Among the reasons behind Odubel Herrera’s continued breakout, none is more notable than his improved plate discipline. The story is well known by now. He was a bit of a free swinger last year, offering at 35.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone. This year, he’s cut that down to 29.4%, which is right in line with the league average. The effects have been apparent. He’s drawing walks at a much improved rate, and he’s getting himself into more favorable hitter’s counts. The result is a .441 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. But Odubel has made another adjustment this year, and one that has been equally important to his success as a hitter.

O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
2015 61.9% 85.4% 76.7%
2016 73.8% 84.8% 80.7%

Odubel isn’t just swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone, he’s making more contact on those pitches when he does swing. More contact leads to fewer strikeouts, and that means he’s not as reliant on an unsustainably high BABIP for offensive value. What’s interesting about this improved contact rate is that it’s not coming on fastballs, but on the offspeed and breaking pitches. You can see the adjustment Odubel made on these pitches from one year to the next. First, his whiff rates against these pitches in 2015:

2015 SoftAnd his whiff rates against those same pitches in 2016:

2016 Soft

Last year, pitchers would bury Odubel with soft stuff down. This year, they can’t seem to get him to miss those same pitches. Year over year, he’s reduced his swinging strike rate on these low offerings from 21.7% to 10.5%. This has played a big part in lowering his total strikeout rate by almost 30% from last year. One thing you may have noticed in the zone profile above is that he’s still vulnerable to a down and in offering, but that pitch carries its own risks.

Odubel Herrera

While the adjustment has been a positive development for Odubel, it’s not without some consequence.  With Odubel getting more coverage on the slower offerings in the lower part of the zone, he’s made himself vulnerable to the fastball at the top of the zone.  His swinging strike rate has increased substantially this year on those high four seam fastballs.

4-Seam Whiffs, Top of Zone
2015 14.4%
2016 26.1%

The issue goes beyond just a few more swings and misses, though.  Odubel is not known as a power hitter, but he can crush a fastball thrown in the lower half of the zone.  That power starts to wane as those same pitches rise above the belt, to the point that it all but disappears on fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone.

Odubel Herrera ISO

It will be interesting to see if opposing pitchers try to exploit this by throwing more high fastballs to Odubel. In the meantime, the adjustment is certainly working in his favor. He’s exchanging weak contact at the top of the zone for better contact in the lower half, reducing his strikeout rate in the process. With hitters, there is often a trade-off with power and contact, where one comes at the expense of the other. Odubel has been able to increase his contact without that associated dip in power. Along with the increase in walks, it’s caused his offensive value to explode.

2015 5.2% 24.0% .121 .387 .333 110
2016 16.5% 17.5% .133 .389 .393 147

The average on balls in play is still likely to come down, but the offensive floor has certainly been raised.  And all from a little patience and one big adjustment in his approach. Not bad for a slap-hitting second baseman from the Rule 5 draft.

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  1. Chuck

    May 27, 2016 04:28 AM

    Awesome stuff. Thanks!

  2. Romus

    May 27, 2016 08:05 AM

    Good analysis.
    And I think he still has some power to generate 12-15 HRs.
    Though oddly…his doubles this year are really down.

    • Dante

      May 27, 2016 09:20 AM

      I think the doubles being down is partly because he is poking those out-of-the zone pitches through the holes for singles. He is pulling the ball a lot less, from 35% last year to 25% this year. He’s made up for that by punishing middle-in pitches more, as noted above. This also shows in his soft/med/hard hit rates – he’s been pretty all or nothing with contact quality. this could mean his BABIP success is more likely to dry up as he has a harder time finding holes. then again, he consistently ran .350+ BABIPs in the minors, so it appears his hit tool is comfortably plus.

      • Romus

        May 27, 2016 03:09 PM

        Dante…..good take.

  3. Francisco (FC)

    May 27, 2016 10:29 AM

    Feed Me Seymour! Put another way, I very much like these kind of posts that analyze players hitting/pitching mechanics and discusses the charts and visuals.

  4. steve

    May 27, 2016 01:29 PM

    it would be awesome to see him stealing some bags too once he got on base.

  5. bubba0101

    May 27, 2016 03:51 PM

    Great, now you told everyone how to get him out. Thanks a lot.

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