Odubel Herrera Is Out Of The Lineup Tonight And That’s A Good Thing
I feel like every time I write something about the Phillies it starts with “hoo boy, that Phillies offense sure is bad, isn’t it?” I apologize for the repitition. I know you know the Phillies can’t hit. I know you know that if it weren’t for the Braves everyone would be talking about how historically bad this Phillies offense is. You don’t need me to repeat myself, but unfortunately, the analysis which follows requires this statement of fact to provide the necessary context and so…
The Phillies offense is bad.
With that out of the way, a bad offense can put a disproportionate amount of pressure on any good offensive players in the lineup. In the case of the 2016 Phillies, the only *good* offensive players are Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Sure, there are varying degrees of hope and optimism for Tyler Goeddel, Tommy Joseph, and perhaps even Cameron Rupp, but functionally, the offense rests on the shoulders of Herrera and Franco at the moment. With Franco struggling so far this season, this leaves Herrera as The Guy.
Herrera has done everything necessary to earn that reputation as the linchpin to the Phillies offense. He’s thrived in his new role as a leadoff hitter, leading the team in virtually every significant non-power driven statistical category from batting average to wRC+ to stolen bases to walk-rate. With that in mind, when the Phillies release a lineup like tonight’s lineup against the Cubs, it’s devastating due to the lack of The Guy at the top:
— Phillies (@Phillies) June 6, 2016
This lineup is wrong. It’s not optimal. The Phillies want to win, their fans want to win and Odubel needs to play in order to provide the best chance of that happening.
Except it’s not really that simple, is it?
For starters, at the time of this writing it’s unknown what the given reason for Herrera’s absence is. He’s battled a finger injury recently and it may well be that he’s out of the lineup for health reasons. But even if there is no specific reason, rest is a really good thing — a necessary thing, even. It’s hard to coordinate rest when the lineup is as dependent on one guy as the Phillies lineup is on Odubel, but it’s absolutely critical to make the effort to do so.
There’s nothing noble about playing 162 games. It is an impressive achievement, to be sure, but it’s not a noble one. The human body is not built to sustain the rigors of a 162-game schedule without wearing down. The decline of a body during the baseball season isn’t merely a potential outcome, it’s a guaranteed outcome. A team which prioritizes winning may do the math and determine that even a worn down version of Their Guy is still a step up from their best bench option and, therefore, Their Guy must play every day down the stretch. But winning at all costs isn’t the reality for every team.
We can pretend that the Phillies are playing for the postseason, but we know that, in reality, the 2016 Phillies season is about preparing for the future. It’s about getting playing time for guys like Herrera to establish themselves as major league regulars, but it’s also about keeping them healthy and productive. Which means, yes, giving them the occasional day off even if that means Peter Bourjos and his 33 wRC+ has to start in center field on occasion.
It’s also worth noting that the fact that Herrera is the closest thing to a complete position player on the Phillies roster can cause us to gloss over some of his weaknesses. More specifically, he has struggled to hit left-handed pitching this year (OPS vs. RHP – .930, OPS vs. LHP – .667). This does not mean he shouldn’t be playing regularly and against left-handed pitching — he absolutely should! When better to let him get the experience necessary to keep growing than in seasons where the Phillies are free to focus more on development than winning? — But given that off-days are also an important part of helping Herrera stay healthy and productive for the full season, it makes all the sense in the world to schedule his time off to coincide with games when the team is facing a lefty — like the Cubs’ Jon Lester tonight.
The Phillies offense is bad and yet, when Odubel Herrera is out of the lineup it looks incomprehensibly worse. At the top of the order tonight, they’ll replace Herrera’s .426 on-base percentage with Cesar Hernandez‘s comparably awful .303 on-base percentage. It stinks. It’s not fun to watch. And it’s absolutely the right thing to do.