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.

Grade: A

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  1. B

    November 16, 2016 04:01 PM

    But the question remains, will they trade him in the offseason? Reports say this is a possibility so Freddy G can slide to 2B and open up SS for JP Crawford.

  2. Edwin

    November 16, 2016 05:50 PM

    While I think Hernandez is an okay player he is not the future. Does he deserve an ‘A’ though I’m not sure. On a curve maybe. He had a good year for the most part but if you want the GM to follow a path for success don’t get to attached to players like him. Trade him while his value is highest. It may not be the most popular choice but it is probably best for the long term. The Kendrick signing is a strong signal that Hernandez might be on his way out. Also, you make a big leap in comparing him to some of the elite players, he is not in the same conversation with Bryant, Baez or Zobrist.

    • Steve Smith

      November 16, 2016 09:30 PM

      Pretty sure every one is getting graded on a slighy curve here, as it should be for a rebuilding team with so many young players who are still developing. When you take into consideration what Hernandez was last year, and what he was expected to be this year, he exceeded expectation enough to earn an “A.”
      That being said, we may have just seen his ceiling, and i wouldnt be opposed to moving him for a quality piece. I also am atleast a little curious to see how he performs next year.

      • Michael Schickling

        November 17, 2016 09:27 AM

        Yeah, I probably should have gone into my grading process a little bit more, but Steve Smith is right. I definitely graded based on perceptions/expectations coming into the season. Hernandez vastly outperformed his expectation, so he gets an A.

  3. Michael C Lorah

    November 17, 2016 08:42 AM

    It’s funny to me that it’s assumed Hernandez is just holding a place until Crawford comes up, pushes Galvis to second, and Hernandez to the bench or off the roster. Honestly, right now, I’d rather keep Hernandez than Galvis.

    Do I question whether Hernandez can repeat his .371 OBP? Yeah, sure, but his career OBP is .350. He was around .340 in 2015. He plays solid (maybe a little better, maybe a little worse) defense. Is he a perfect player? Of course not. Most players aren’t. But his strengths are areas where the Phillies have need.

    Galvis improves the defense, but I think Galvis repeating a 20 HR season is even less likely than Hernandez repeating a .371 OBP. Hernandez is getting on base 90 points better. His defense isn’t as good, but is still passable. Because of all the gappers, Hernandez’s SLG was almost equal to Galvis’s. On a team that desperately needs people who can get on base, I don’t think you can overlook Hernandez’s value right now. He may not be a guy you build around for the long-term future, but he’s a very usable player for the Phillies right now.

    I’m 100% fine with selling high on Cesar, but the return has to have immediate impact.

    • Romus

      November 17, 2016 09:04 AM

      MCL…would you sell if Billy Beane and the As offered someone like RHP Grant Holmes? Which would be a long-shot….but you never know with Billy Beane, the guy who basically gave the Cub’s current all-star ss Addison Russell for Jess Samardzija for two months of the ’14 season then three months later traded him to the Chisox.

      • ryan

        November 17, 2016 10:54 AM

        After reading Seidman’s excellent article linked above, I’m all on board aiming for Khris Davis of the A’s. Davis profiles as a slightly better player but he’d cost more and Hernandez is coming off the “more valuable” season. 42 homers are great, but they came with low avg/obp and a lot of k’s.

        Considering that we already have Kendrick, getting Davis couldn’t line up better. We can shift Kendrick to 2nd, where I’m confident he’ll perform about as well as Hernandez would. I have doubts that Kendrick’s bat is a premium in LF, but again, should be above league average at 2nd. Then Davis is a legit power threat in LF. I’d be pumped about an opening day OF with Davis, Herrera, Altherr/Quinn and an infield of Franco, Galvis, Kendrick and Joseph. Call me crazy, but I could see 14 WAR from those 7 positions. I’ll hold my breath for catcher, as I could see a season with Rupp/Alfaro being another 2+ or one with Alfaro/Ellis being closer to 0. Either way, our offense put up a collective 7 in 2016 so I’d sure take 14+. (I just use WAR as an approximation, the point being that all 8 of those positions would be manned by someone in the league average discussion, instead of the “replacement level” we’ve been throwing out there)

      • Michael C Lorah

        November 18, 2016 09:02 AM

        Romus, not sure anybody’s too concerned with what I’d do! 😉

        I don’t really keep up with other teams’ minor leaguers, so this link is everything I know about Holmes. From what I can see, he looks promising and pitching is always nice to have. If he has a reasonable top-of-rotation ceiling (good Ks, low HR/9, a little too wild but maybe fixable given his youth), I’d certainly be interested, but given what little I actually know, I’d need more diligence done.

  4. Major Malfunction

    November 17, 2016 01:20 PM

    Player A: .241/.274/.399, 25 BB, 136 K, 79 OPS+, 1.3 WAR
    Player B: .294/.371/.393, 66 BB, 116 K, 107 OPS+, 3.3 WAR

    Last 2 years averaged:
    Player A: .252/.288/.372, 28 BB, 120 K, 79 OPS+, 0.8 WAR
    Player B: .285/.358/.374, 53 BB, 101 K, 101 OPS+, 2.1 WAR

    Trading Player B to keep Player A doesn’t make any sense. Look at the numbers and realize its all emotion.

    What’s amazing is that Galvis hit 20 HRs this year and STILL has a lower SLG than Hernandez over the last 2 years when you average them. Is Galvis’s defense so incredible it trumps the need for more offense on the most offense deficient team in MLB?

    I like Galvis, he certainly has a gold glove, but he’s been at the MLB level for 5 years and still hasn’t figured out how to hit. Somehow, the perception is that Hernandez is a lost cause or a this season was a mirage, which is actually an improvement on the unexpectedly good season he had the year before that.

    Hernandez isn’t an all star, but why the rush to throw away a .300/.375/.400 2nd baseman? Have you looked at the rest of MLB to see how many 2Bs are bringing it these days?

    • ryan

      November 17, 2016 03:27 PM

      I’m totally with you. Frankly, I like keeping Galvis short term because there will be no problem swapping him out when JPC gets called up. (And by all accounts, is projected to produce around a .700 OPS in anywhere from 250 – 400 PAs this season)

      Like almost all of the posters above, I feel that Hernandez’s season last year was really a gift to Klentak’s rebuild. He now has a viable major league option at 2nd, and if he can sell him towards the peak (especially with Kendrick now, Kingery future) then great, if not then oh well he’s got a cheap above average position player with the downside of Kendrick/Kingery.

    • Romus

      November 17, 2016 03:40 PM

      Maj Mal……the perception of Cesar and his apparent lower value, IMO, seem to stem from his base running blunders.
      If his 13 CS, in which two were pickoffs, and I believe two, maybe three were over sliding the bags at second and third on attempted steals, were never an occurrence, I think he would get greater respect. Not sure it would have increased his bWAR all that much from 3.3, since steals are not a large math function of WAR, but it would have gone a long way as far as perception is concerned.

    • Bob

      November 18, 2016 05:03 PM

      We need a bench player who can play SS. Blanco is 32 years old, and I’m not high on Cesar as a 6.

      • Steve Smith

        November 19, 2016 03:39 PM

        Do we really need to invest any resources into a backup ss this year?
        You are right, Blanco is older and CH isnt a very good SS, but for next year, who cares?
        The hope is that JPC is your starting SS at some point in 2018, which would allow Galvis to fill the utility role.

      • Bob

        November 21, 2016 01:19 PM

        I took it as an “either/or” proposition with Galvis and Hernandez. I don’t think we can get rid of Galvis and keep CH because FG can play SS whereas CH cannot.

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