Odubel’s Impending Breakout
Much of Odubel Herrera’s offense last year was tied to an incredible success rate on converting batted balls into hits. His .387 average on balls in play led the league, and it led Odubel to one of the most successful Rule 5 seasons in recent memory. But outside of that unsustainable number, the rest of his offense fell far short of impressive. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and power were all below average. And without improvements in any of those areas, the inevitable regression in his BABIP was going to sink his offense altogether.
So coming into the 2016 season, Odubel made immediate improvements in two of those categories. He learned the value of taking a free pass, and even though he’s far removed from what he did in April, he’s still drawing walks at a league average level. He also started making more contact, which significantly lowered his strikeout rate in the process. Those two adjustments alone gave him a sustainable way to maintain a higher on-base percentage, and ultimately raised his floor as a hitter. But there’s yet another emerging trend in his numbers that might portend even bigger things for Odubel.
Last year, Odubel hit a bunch of doubles, but his home run power was limited to the pull side of the field. He hit some surprisingly long home runs, but they all came on pitches in essentially one area of the strike zone: down and in. Basically, he could turn on an inside pitch and yank it out of the park. You might have called him an opportunistic home run hitter, which was fine for a player whose offense was built around hitting line drives and spraying the ball to all fields.
But this year, Odubel is driving balls out of the deeper parts of the park. Where last year all but one of his home runs were pulled to right field, six of the ten home runs he has hit this year have come in the area between left center and right center. He’s still turning on inside pitches, but now he’s expanded his power to pitches on the outer half of the plate as well. You can see the difference in the pitch location charts for Odubel’s home runs over the last two years, courtesy of Baseball Savant. First, the down and in pitches of 2015:
And now, the expanded power of 2016:
As a result of adding power on the outer half of the plate, he has increased his HR/FB rate from 7.6% to 12.7%. While some hitters will see a similar power surge by means of pulling more balls in the air, Odubel has done it while seeing his pull rate on both fly balls and line drives cut in half. This is why he has only seen a proportionately small increase in his isolated slugging percentage this year. While the HR rate indicates he’s hitting the ball harder, the power is being masked by a change in where he’s hitting the baseball.
Odubel has gone from an all fields approach at the plate to an opposite field approach, to the point that he is currently second in the league in percentage of balls hit the other way. For most hitters, balls hit to the opposite field are less desirable from a power standpoint, and Odubel is no different. Most power comes on the pull side. So in order to get to more of his extra-base power, it might simply be a matter of re-finding his ability to spread the ball around the field more evenly.
If he can marry his old approach with his newfound ability to drive pitches on the outer half, Odubel will be poised for a power breakout, and it would be the latest from a player who seems like he’s been perpetually breaking out since he came into the league.