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.
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.