Odubel Herrera Is Not Having A Bad Season

There’s been a modest amount of discussion late this season about the Phillies potentially trading young, All-Star center fielder Odubel Herrera. There are no real indications from the team itself that they look to trade him this offseason, but a perceived combination of a worse total performance (particularly in the second half), and concerns about attitude (largely the idea that he started to coast after making the All-Star team) have lead some local fans and pundits to want to cash out on the former Rule 5 pick.

I’m not in the clubhouse, so I can’t (and won’t) really speak to the latter concern. However, I can certainly comment about the former concern. The idea Odubel Herrera is having a worse season than in 2015 is really not based on much of substance. His 9.9 percent walk rate is almost double last season’s 5.2 percent rate, his strikeout rate is down by four percentage points, and his .134 ISO is moderately improved over last season’s .121 mark. He’s stolen 22 bases and hit 14 home runs, 6 more than each of his respective totals last season.

In fact, with one notable exception, he’s outperformed his ZIPS projections in every rate category (BB%, K%, ISO, AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, SB%), while proving himself to be very durable. He’s also swung and missed a little bit less often, and has improved his swing selection by a tiny bit.ZIPS projected moderate regression from his rookie year, but his performance in almost every one of those categories is also in line with or better than his 2015 season. Basically, in all respects other than BABIP, Odubel Herrera’s offensive season is remarkably the same as last year – if not slightly more refined.

ZIPS 5.3% 23.5% 0.115 0.357 0.277 0.324 0.392 0.323 65%
2015 5.2% 24.0% 0.121 0.387 0.297 0.344 0.418 0.333 67%
2016 9.9% 20.0% 0.134 0.344 0.285 0.361 0.419 0.337 76%

But, even though most would have said a .387 BABIP was not sustainable in 2015, it would be foolish to disregard a drop in BABIP as purely luck. However, his groundball rate is basically unchanged, and his hard-hit rate is ever-so-slightly up, and his speed rating is unchanged. We’re talking about roughly the same stat line, and same batted ball profile, plus almost twice as many walks and a little more power. I’d argue that this is just Odubel Herrera’s profile as a ballplayer, with a little less noise from opposing defenders.

There are probably many who would argue that his season (particularly the plate discipline numbers) are still heavily weighed by an unusual April that immediately dissipated. His second half 94 wRC+ is slightly below-average – a good defender can overcome that, but that’s still not a great player. However, even over the second half Herrera has walked more than last year, struck out less, and hit for more power. He’s even been on fire in September, on pace for a month (136 wRC+) that would please almost any player. He had an uncharacteristically poor July, but whatever the flaws were at the time, the aren’t currently effecting him.

So, if my argument is that’s actually been roughly as good or better than in 2015, why doesn’t it appear in the win value metrics? Well, it actually does. His 2016 campaign (3.9 rWAR) just passed his rookie season (3.8 rWAR) using Baseball Reference WAR, and he’s way ahead using Baseball Prospectus’ WARP metric (4.2 WARP in 2016 versus 2.8 WARP in 2015). He’s a bit behind using FanGraphs WAR (3.2 fWAR versus 4.0 fWAR), a system that says he’s provided exactly the same amount of baserunning and offensive value as last season (by that system, his offensive production being dinged by a drop in BABIP is counterbalanced by accumulating more plate appearances).

So, three different WAR metrics come out differently on Herrera’s 2016 season – one saying he’s been noticeably less valuable, another saying he’s been exactly as valuable, and a final one saying he’s much better – while all roughly agree on his offensive and baserunning contributions.

Can anyone guess what could possibly be the difference between the thr– OK, OK, I hear you, please stop yelling. It’s the defensive metrics.

The three varieties see his relative performance very differently, which happens – you really don’t want to trust a defensive metric with this level of specificity over a single season. Honestly, even over two seasons, it’s not quite enough of a sample to give you a well-tuned reading on a player. We’ve seen Odubel Herrera make all kinds of defensive plays; those that are great, those that are bad, and those that are both. The extent to which he is a great centerfielder is unclear, and it certainly would be incorrect to treat defensive metrics calculated to a tenth of a run as gospel. However, all of the metrics at least point in the same direction (that is, that he an above-average defender). As a young player whose speed is still rated highly, his ability probably hasn’t changed much from year to year. Basically, I think he’s roughly just as much an above-average centerfielder as he was in 2015. That is the same as my belief that he is roughly just as much an above-average hitter and base runner as he was in 2015.

This was a lot of text to basically say that Odubel Herrera is the same player he was in 2015, minus the benefit of a little extra batted ball luck. If problems in the club house are really such that they can’t be worked through and he needs to go to another team, that’s fine. But if the team does move him, it really shouldn’t have anything to do with his on-field production. He’s just Odubel being Odubel.

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  1. Major Malfunction

    September 19, 2016 09:19 AM

    Nice article!

    I was under the impression his 2nd half was sub par. Butt when you actually look at his splits, you can see it was July only that was the crater month (.227/.274/.373 (.646 OPS)) and he was pretty consistent otherwise.

    Take away July and he’s batting .29976, which would round up to .300. His season would definitely be above average for a CF in MLB. Still pretty amazing for a Rule 5 who never played above AA ball until last year.

    • ryan

      September 19, 2016 09:51 AM

      Oh, so in his absolute worst month he plays about as well as Bourjous/Goeddel/Asche/Paredes/Altherr.

      Let’s just trade him though, it’s not like those 5 have already received 1132 PAs this season.

      I’m part of this insane camp that 3-5 win 24 year olds who can fall back to either corner outfield position are good to have on your team.

      Sorry for the morning sarcasm. I agree with all of your points Spencer and MajMal, thanks for always writing great stuff.

      • Lonnie Loves Schuerholz

        September 19, 2016 10:18 PM

        I guess the point is that with a trade you will get another player who, on paper, is equivalent to Odubel/another (theoretical) 3-5 WAR player. No one is saying Odubel sucks or should be cut or given away. Maybe just roll the dice for someone who is less eccentric, a better positional fit, etc.?

    • Romus

      September 19, 2016 02:56 PM

      His defensive metrics are really skewed negative due to the 4/5 ground ball, ‘runner took the extra base’ bobbles he had in April and May. Which is probably due to lack of focus. Subtract them from the equation and his SDI would have been higher, and probably his fWAR.

  2. rlh1004

    September 19, 2016 01:47 PM

    Awesome article. All of the people calling for him to be traded on hustle/showboat grounds are the same types who flamed on Jimmy’s occasional failure to run out routine fly balls or his “we’re the team to beat in the NL East” comment. I’m not saying Odubel is the next Jimmy Rollins, but to discount his value based on his attitude is just dumb.

    Not every player carries himself like Chase Utley. Honestly, as much as I love Utley, the league would be a very boring place if they did…

    • Romus

      September 19, 2016 03:00 PM

      If a GM comes calling asking about OH….then I would listen if it is a TOR MLB-ready prospect pitcher in the exchange, ie Mendez of the Rangers, or Urias from the Dodgers, and maybe even Luis Severino from the Yankees.
      But anything less…adios.
      He is too valuable in baseball skills and administratively controlled.

    • Lonnie Loves Schuerholz

      September 19, 2016 10:24 PM

      This is exactly the reason many fans want Jimmy Rollins to always hustle or catch sh!t……..EVERYONE has to play hard. You don’t use superstar non-hustlers to justify non-hustling – that’s just backwards Trumpian type thinking.

  3. B

    September 19, 2016 03:31 PM

    Anyone in favor of moving OH to play 2B next year? He would be an offensive upgrade over anything we currently have available playing at 2B, plus it would free up an outfield spot for some combination of Quinn/Altherr/Goeddel/Free Agent. I think it would greatly benefit our offense, by freeing up an outfield spot for another productive hitter..

    • Robin Mitchell-Boyask

      September 19, 2016 06:00 PM

      Man, I’d kill for the opposite article on Cesar Hernandez, who has given Ben Revere a run for his money for the lowest baseball IQ of any baseball player I’ve seen wear a Phillies uniform. Why are people focused on Herrera when we have a 2B who has bumped into 2 different first basemen on infield pop ups this year, who doesn’t know when to steal, and seems to have his mind on the Girls of Instagram when he is standing on first base? I mean, I have NOT been completely impressed by OH during the second half, but trade him?

      Let Odubel learn a corner slot during the winter (corners are harder than CF; my son played all three in HS) and hope that Quinn is ready in April.

      Here’s a request that someone write a piece that confirms or dispels my gut feeling that, after almost 2 full seasons, we should be very concerned about Franco.

      • Lonnie Loves Schuerholz

        September 19, 2016 10:30 PM

        Problems with making on-field mistakes, even mental mistakes are NOWHERE EQUIVALENT to problems with attitude/hustle/mindset.

      • joe goldberg

        September 20, 2016 08:55 AM

        You make a fair criticism but there’s only 6 second basemen in baseball who have a higher batting average, and only 5 with a better OBP. Of those, only two are 26 years old like him, and none younger. He’s only been a starter for a year and a half and has continued to improve as hitter. Mental issues can be corrected easier than physical issues but even if he doesn’t improve as a base runner, he’s one of the better at the position right now (with more speed than most, too) and likely hasn’t peaked yet. It wouldn’t take much continued development for him to grow into a bonafide all star.

      • Eddie

        September 20, 2016 07:52 PM

        All due respect to your son and everything, but we have 150 years of baseball history telling us that CF is more demanding than the corners. There’s a reason they put they put the clumsy kids there.

    • JC

      September 19, 2016 06:47 PM

      I’m very much against that. From all reports, he was a poor second baseman. Not only that, Cesar Hernandez has a 2.7 WAR on the year, the second highest on the team after Odubel. So playing Herrera at second weakens the team at several positions.

    • Eddie

      September 20, 2016 08:01 PM

      No to putting Herrera at 2B.

      The scouting reports on him there were tepid, and that was before he spent two years away from the position. If the other OFs were knocking the snot out of the ball, and there were no other prospects at 2B, that’s be one thing, but the opposite looks to be the case. Altherr and Williams have done little this year, Hernandez has improved, and Kingery and Valentin have taken steps forward, too. The odds are you’d just be moving him again eventually, and all that jerking around might impact his bat.

      There’s every reason he can be a .300/.350/.450 kind of bat, and that’s perfectly fine in LF.

  4. Lonnie Loves Schuerholz

    September 19, 2016 10:44 PM

    Odubel is not having a bad season, but is he part of the “new core?” I’d say no, trade him for other assets.

    Franco is the only guy I can see being a Top Five at the position type player. Franco has been meh so far, but can still see the potential for him to be a Top Five 3B; the swing & glove look all-star for longish stretches when he gets focused. I can’t say anything close to this for any other position players on the team – feel free to trade them all and roll the dice.

    • Steve

      September 21, 2016 07:46 AM

      How is OH not part of the next core?
      Age….. Check
      Talent…. Check
      A Quinn, OH, Williams outfield on opening day 2018 still excites me. Altherr was always projected to be a 4th OF type, Goedell looked overmatched. If Cozens or Randolph or (dare i dream) Moniak push one of these out, then you think about a trade. OH can hit at any spot in the lineup except cleanup. He can play any OF position. He could probably play 2b in a pinch (scouting reports on him were not terrible)

  5. Oran Kelley

    September 20, 2016 05:39 AM

    Ever wonder why a major maret team should have only two world series championships over the entire history of baseball? Start with the lame, irrational garbage you get from people trying to justify hating on OH. First he’s free swinging out the wazoo. Then he’s on a downward trend across the board. And when that is shown to be BS, he’s “eccentric” and should be traded for someone with roughly the same stats and less upside. . . This is obvious rationalizing of, mmmmm, the sort of deplorable and/or idiotic (e.g. “he won’t run into walls!”) motives that have so often driven the Phillies remarkable historic success.

    • Semi Tough

      September 20, 2016 06:53 AM

      The Phillies haven’t been all that bad within most of our lifetimes (i.e. 1950 to present). There’s no shame in being a Phillies phan my friend.
      Pennants in 1950, 1980, 1983, 1993, 08, & 09, regular playoff appearances through the years, & having the best team in baseball from 2008 to about 2012 is nothing to sneeze at. Life as a Phillies phan is good!

  6. joe goldberg

    September 20, 2016 09:03 AM

    Sabermetrics aside, he needs to be better. Given his lack of power and average defensive ability he’s got to be the .300+ hitter he can be to be a starter for us. I see him as a guy who will challenge for a batting title some year soon, but he needs to get to that level of hitter to be a part of an eventual perennially contending Phillies team.

    • Bob

      September 20, 2016 01:04 PM

      There are only 24 players in all of baseball who hit over .300 this year thus far. That’s less than one per team. Of them, only seven are outfielders. I think it’s a bit much asking OH to hit over .300 based on other players in the league.

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