2016 Phillies Report Card: Cesar Hernandez
Entering the 2016 season, Cesar Hernandez was a player on the fringe of the roster. He held a career 86 OPS+ and just 33 extra base hits in three years. Unlike a lot of slap hitting types, Hernandez didn’t bring the elite defense and baserunning that light hitters need to provide value. In the beginning of 2016, it looked like much of the same from Cesar, who posted a .256/.308/.321 line through May.
Then the calendar flipped to June, and Cesar got hot and stayed hot. From June through the end of the season, he posted a .311/.398/.425 line, notching 6 home runs and 8 triples, compared to 2 home runs and 7 triples in his career before June. The result is an overall batting line 8 percent better than league average, and along with improved defensive marks, he put up 4.4 fWAR and 3.3 bWAR in 2016. After just 33 extra base hits from 2013-2015, Cesar had 31 in 2016.
The question remains, though: Is he actually this good?
He put up the highest walk rate and lowest strikeout rate of his career. His BABIP was slightly high, but in line with his career average. He posted the lowest O-Swing% and Whiff% rate of his career, along with the highest contact rate. He also posted highest hard hit rate and lowest soft hit rate of his career. As a switch-hitter, he was above average against lefties and righties. He just became a better hitter, and he may have played himself into a long-term starting job.
Defensively, the question is a bit murkier. He posted positive marks in UZR (+13.9 runs) and significantly lower but still positive marks in DRS (+4 runs). Compared to 2015, where he posted negative UZR (-1.6) and DRS (-7), the positive numbers seem dubious at best. Due to the inherent uncertainty with defensive metrics and Cesar’s career numbers, I’m inclined to call him a scratch fielder at best. Perhaps next season he can prove me wrong, but I’m not yet convinced.
But here’s the thing: a player who can hit above the league average and play a passable second base is a very valuable player.
And here’s the other thing: Cesar Hernandez isn’t just a second baseman. He’s accrued over 100 innings over his career at second base, shortstop, third base, and centerfield. He hasn’t shown himself to be a particularly adept fielder anywhere besides second base, but again, if he can be passable at multiple positions on the difficult side of the defensive spectrum, he could be a versatile super-utility player for the Phillies. That’s extremely valuable from a team-building perspective.
The Cubs just showed us how adaptability can help a team, with the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Ben Zobrist all playing multiple positions to help the Cubs bust their infamous curse. Jedd Gyorko also played 4 different positions for the Cardinals this year, and while they didn’t make the playoffs, Gyorko plugging holes at multiple positions certainly helped them stay in the hunt.
If Hernandez can sustain his offensive and defensive gains next season and settle in as a four-win second baseman, that would be valuable enough. But if he could be a four-win shortstop, third baseman, second baseman, and outfielder, well, that would open a lot of doors for the Phillies organization.