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.
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:
And his whiff rates against those same pitches in 2016:
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.
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|
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.
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.
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.