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:

Odubel 2015 HR

And now, the expanded power of 2016:

Odubel 2016 HR

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.

Pull% Cent% Oppo%
2015 35.2% 32.3% 32.5%
2016 25.0% 37.3% 37.7%

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.

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  1. GameofRedemption

    July 08, 2016 10:54 PM

    Odubel has been the most exciting offensive player of this year’s squad, in my opinion. The power is great, he’s already surpassed last year’s total and we’re just a week into July. The walks though are seriously excellent for his profile as a hitter. He’ll probably triple his walk rate from last season, and he’s still maintaining that ~.300 batting average. Plus, a nickname like El Toro scores him a few extra points in my “fun to watch” book.

    • Jeff Stone

      July 09, 2016 01:57 AM

      His caught stealing numbers are embarrassing. If he could rip off 50 bags at 85%, he’d really be something.

      • Major Malfunction

        July 09, 2016 01:49 PM

        I concur. I don’t know if he doesn’t know how to get a good jump or can’t read the pitcher. Or both. But they keep giving him the green light so they must know he’s still work in progress. Again, he’s 1 season removed from AA, so he’s still got things to learn at the MLB level.

      • Romus

        July 09, 2016 07:37 PM

        MajMal…..OH’s minor league CS% is rather high..he was not a prolific base stealer in the minors..one year he had 34 and another 27 …..not sure he is as much as a threat that people would like him to be.

      • Steve

        July 10, 2016 02:43 PM

        Think he would even be in majors if he was still in Texas? That was a great pickup. I could see ultimately in the 2 or 3 spot in the lineup.

      • Eddie

        July 12, 2016 02:35 PM

        “If he could rip off 50 bags at 85%, he’d really be something.”

        If Abreu could hit 30 HR, he’d be a real star.
        If Rollins could draw more walks, he’d finally be a decent leadoff man.
        If Schmidt could hit .300, the fans wouldn’t boo him.

        We never change …

      • Jeff Sure

        July 12, 2016 07:02 PM

        Sure I’m wish casting and playing baseball is hard, but top players should provide either power or speed. otherwise you’re somewhat fungible & not really a weapon….

      • steve

        July 13, 2016 05:39 AM

        Isnt he on pace to go 20/20, if not more? In just his second season above AA? That is somthing. Hell, Jimmy won an MVP for being 20/20/20/20. Yeah, i would like to see Doobie progress to a better %, but to say he has to steal 50 base or hit with 40 hr power to be special is rediculous. His obp, k%, bb%, and power have all taken major steps foward this year. Ill take that over sb%, other wise you end up with Billy Hamilton. Dude could steal 80 bases a year if he could get on base that many times. Na, im good with Doobie.

      • Eddie

        July 13, 2016 02:56 PM

        “top players should provide either power or speed otherwise you’re somewhat fungible & not really a weapon….”

        Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Mark Grace and many, many more dispute that.

        Herrera was a four-win player last year and he’s on pace to be one again this year –He already IS “really something.” A guy who hits .300 with 20 HR and 70 BB and decent-or-better defense at a premium position is a first-division regular even if he runs like Bartolo Colon. Throw in 20-steal speed and he’s a frequent all-star.

        That’s a legit all-star;

      • Jeff Stone

        July 13, 2016 04:58 PM

        OB is in no way Rollings, Gywnn, Carew, Boggs; just saying. 20/20 is in no way equal to 20/20/20/20. Boggs hit .330+ practically every year for a decade. Carew/Gywnn combined high average with speed until age and Dennys caught up with them. He needs to pick it up a bit to be really special and improving his SB skills is the most likely path. OB is not an “all star” outside of being the Philly rep….

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