2016 Phillies Report Card: Odubel Herrera
For the first time in his thus far short stint in Philadelphia, character concerns began to pop up for Odubel Herrera in 2016 and, in my opinion, did their part in overshadowing how productive Herrera has been.
It’s almost that Herrera’s quick rise to prominence last year, after being selected in the Rule 5 draft, was detrimental to how Phillies fans viewed him. He blew up in 2015, all but cementing himself as a cornerstone of the rebuild. But because of that, the “Can this kid play?” stage of his career was all but skipped, and fans made a beeline toward critiquing his play like he was a multi-year veteran. He is 24. No, it’s not idyllic that he needs extra encouragement to get on the field early and take extra reps, but if we’ve learned anything about Odubel Herrera, he is still growing and maturing as an everyday ballplayer and producing heavily for a dismal offense.
As a lefty, he enjoyed better-than-average success against left-handers in 2015, but that did not transfer over to 2016. From May through September, each faction of his triple-slash against lefties began with a two, and he somehow managed to post a single-digit, 9 wRC+ in 28 May plate appearances against lefties.
But for the equal opportunity bat flipper, 2016 was the continuation and solidification of the fact that he is poised to give right-handers fits for years to come. If you remove the first three months in the big leagues in 2015 (essentially time he would have spent in triple-A were he not mandated to stay on the 25-man roster all year), his monthly wRC+ figures against righties are as follows: 199, 128, 147, 146, 166, 107, 87, 103, 136. That’s just one below average month (this July). Even his directional batted ball tendencies matured: His pull percentage dropped 11.3 points (from over a third of all balls in play down to a quarter), and he evenly distributed those balls up the middle and the opposite way, raising each from an identical 31.1% in 2015 to 37.8% back up the box and 35.7% to left field. For a hitter with inconsistent plate discipline, the ability to work all parts of the field is important, especially for a speedster.
And while his gold glove nomination was more of a commentary on the National League’s defensively anemic center fielder talent pool, Herrera’s advanced metrics actually make a case for his inclusion as one of three NL center field gold glove nominees. His six defensive runs saved ranked behind just three NL outfield generals and his UZR was better than all but two. I was never (and still am not) convinced Herrera was the long-term center fielder – my money’s on Roman Quinn – but Herrera’s glove is not a detriment to his profile.
Many of our fantastic writers talked in-depth about Herrera’s walk rates from their spike in May and June to their regression as the season progressed. The rates, in my opinion, are not as inherently important compared to the realization that Herrera is a malleable ballplayer, capable of altering his approach and seeing success, even if only initially. Maintaining and honing these tendencies over a full season is the next step, one unattainable without first seeing a player’s willingness to adjust.
I alluded to it above, but Herrera’s ability to produce from the moment he put on a Phillies jersey sped up his proverbial prospect timeline. People want and expect more because they have no memories – like those currently held for an entire farm system of prospects – of a player’s adjustments and tribulations in the minors where its effect on the team is less important than the growth of the player. This must be kept in mind in order to levy a fair grade on Herrera’s season.
The bottom line is that since 1900, Herrera has the 10th highest cumulative fWAR (7.8) of any Phillie through his age 24 season and the second best of any Phillies centerfielder behind Richie Ashburn. As Spencer Bingol noted toward the end of the season, he outplayed his ZiPS projections in every category but BABIP. Every now and then he’ll violently screw himself into the ground with a swing and you’ll swear you flashed back to childhood memories of Kimmy Eckman’s twirling pirouette from Backyard Baseball. But nonetheless, Odubel Herrera was the most consistent threat on a Phillies offense still awaiting the full potential of Maikel Franco, and very well may be again in 2017.