Is César Hernández For Real?

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is second baseman César Hernández.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, César Hernández surprisingly managed to lead the Phillies in fWAR last year with 4.4. This was also third best among second basemen in the National League. At the beginning of last season, if you had given me 5 guesses on who would lead the Phillies in WAR, I don’t think Hernández would have made the cut, but here we are.

His path to very-good-playerdom followed the Luis Castillo precedent of good defense, high average, lots of walks, little power, and decent baserunning, but how much of that is sustainable for the 26-year-old’s upcoming seasons? Let’s pick this apart piece by piece.

Good defense

(Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

Last year, Hernández rated as +16 runs by UZR, which contributed a huge amount of his overall fWAR. DRS, however, placed him at +4, which constitutes more than a full win of value less than UZR. Moreover, prior to last season, Hernández had been a negative-value defender by both DRS and UZR every season of his career. Generally speaking, defensive value peaks early in a player’s career, but Hernández has the physical tools to handle second base. He also played more innings at second base last year than he had in his previous three seasons combined. That being said, I’d be extremely surprised if he repeated his +16 run performance. I expect regression, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he maintained positive fielding value.

High Average

Hernández ran a .304 average at Double-A in 2012; then a .309 average at Triple-A in 2013. In his Major League career, his average over 1300 PAs is .281, and last year he peaked at .294. I think it’s  a pretty safe bet that, with his speed, Hernández can continue to post high batting averages for the foreseeable future, especially if he continues to successfully bunt for hits.

Lots of Walks

This is perhaps the most dubious item on the list. Hernández’s walk rate has increased each year he’s been in the Major Leagues, and last year it finally broke the 10% threshold. Over the past 15 years, only 19 qualified hitters have managed a walk rate above 10% with an ISO below .100, and only 10 of those managed to be average or better by wRC+. Hernández did that in 2016, but I would bet on some walk rate regression. Pitchers threw him strikes about 46% of the time in 2016, compared with the league average of 45%. Due to his lack of power, pitchers should be more than willing to fill up the strike zone against Hernández in 2017.

Little Power

Hernández actually posted the highest ISO of his career last year at .099. After entering the season with two career home runs in 708 PAs, he mashed six in his 622 PAs in 2016. For what it’s worth, his hard hit rate and pull rate were both career highs, which could mean this meager power spike is not a fluke. Hernández also led all qualified hitters in triples with 11, but ranked second-to-last in doubles with just 14. Realistically though, if he wants to maintain any semblance of power, he’s going to have to use his speed to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples, which leads us to our next item.

Good Baserunning

I don’t think anyone could defensibly argue that Hernández is a good baserunner. He’s certainly fast, but it seems he lacks the awareness of a top-level baserunner. Hernández converted just 17 of his 30 steal attempts. That put him second in the MLB in caught stealing, behind Jonathan Villar, a guy who stole 45 more bases than César. Hernández’s 56.7% stolen base rate ranked last in baseball among players with at least 10 stolen bases. The league average was 72%.

There are a few bright spots, however; Hernández successfully took the extra base (meaning moving up two bases on a single or three bases on a double) 50% of the time in 2016, compared with the league average of 40%. Despite his reputation for making boneheaded baserunning plays, he made just 6 outs on the bases in 2016 (not counting caught stealing), tied with Freddy Galvis and well below the 10 Odubel Herrera made. This explains why Hernández had nearly as many triples as doubles last year.

Conclusion

The bad news is it appears that Hernández’s stellar fielding marks and above average walk rate may not be sustainable. However, there is room for improvement in his power and baserunning, and he’s likely to maintain his good batting average.  That profile doesn’t look like a superstar, but Hernández does look like an average to above average second baseman moving forward.

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13 comments

  1. Romus

    March 15, 2017 10:41 AM

    The question still remains…if JPC is the future ss, and does come up in the second half of the sesson, …..who ends up at 2nd base…Freddy or Cesar? And then who moves on, if and when Kingery and or maybe even Valentin , are given their major league auditions at 2nd?

  2. Mike Fassano

    March 15, 2017 11:50 AM

    I have a hunch that Klentak is going to make a couple of deals in the next two weeks. A couple of the kids are major league ready and a couple of non-roster players deserve a spot.

    • Steve

      March 15, 2017 12:24 PM

      I wouldn’t be shockes to see a trade, but which kids are you thinking are ready to be everyday MLB players? IMO JPC, Kingery, Williams, Cozens, Hoskins all start in the minors. I could see Quinn and/or Stassi making the team and sharing time in the OF. Nava also has a chance to make the team. I dont see Klentak trading Herrera, Kendrick, or Saunders in the next few weeks.

      • Romus

        March 15, 2017 02:29 PM

        If Stassi and Nava both make the team…..what two players do you DFA from the 40?
        Some think Luis Garcia going north with the 25 is also a ;ossibility…..but up until now, he has been everyone’s favorite to DFA….I guess the other would be Adam Morgan.

      • Mike Fassano

        March 15, 2017 04:39 PM

        If Hernandez and or Galvis are traded, Kendricks could move to second base. I see Quinn being a real game changer. I like Nava or Stassi as being a Matt Stairs type of pinch hitter who can win a game with one swing. Hopefully, things will sort themselves out in the next two weeks.

  3. Cornelius

    March 15, 2017 02:37 PM

    Cesar has always been a good hitter. Good bat speed & mechanics. That wrist injury a few years back really set him back. Cesar also has very good speed. He’s a middle of the pack starter in the league that will not break the bank. Good side piece to have on a good team, but hardly a true star.

    • Steve

      March 15, 2017 07:59 PM

      Could you imagine how much higher everyones opinion of Hernandez would be if he could just run the bases at an above average level?

  4. Michael C Lorah

    March 15, 2017 02:43 PM

    As I commented on the Roundtable discussion linked here, Hernandez is sufficiently real to remain in place until the job is taken from him. Decent/good defense and good on-base skills play at the major league level. He’s not a guy you build around, but neither was Pedro Feliz and he has a Phillies World Series ring.

    The thing about players like Hernandez (or Rupp or, maybe, Joseph) is that he’s useful, but not exceptional. You can win with one or two if the players around him are delivering on a regular basis, because he does bring something positive to the table.

    You’re still looking to upgrade those positions (hoping Kingery, Alfaro, Hoskens can do that) if the opportunity is there, but right now, second base simply isn’t a glaring problem on this roster. Corner outfield needs to step up. Franco needs to arrive. Joseph needs to get on base. And Galvis … well, Crawford needs to be as good as advertised (maybe only half that good, really).

    • Steve

      March 15, 2017 07:53 PM

      Personally, im really rooting for Joseph. The way he came back from the injuries is great, but when you watch him hit its easy to get excited. The small sample power was awesome last year and he really drivea the ball. With some more regular reps and good plate discipline i could see him hitting well enough to be a legit 1b. Not Goldschmidt or Abreu offensively, but maybe Hosmer or Belt, still a piece to build around.

      • Michael C Lorah

        March 16, 2017 07:19 AM

        I’d certainly love for Joseph to be the real deal. There’s no question the power is real.

        I think the Phillies are reaching an interesting level where they have – with Kendrick and Saunders hopefully stabilizing the corner outfield spots – a roster full of playable guys. There’s nobody (even Galvis, who I’m typically down on, adds sufficient defense that his offensive ineptitude could be overlooked in a deeper lineup) on the roster who you’re embarrassed to watch. Everybody there could potentially be on winning roster, but they’re mostly at the level of being the solid contributor. The David Eckstein, the Juan Pierre.

        The Phils need a few more players, from outside or inside the system, to rise up and be top five in the league at their position. Superstar quality isn’t entirely necessary – Burrell/Victorino/Werth was a great outfield without anybody being ascendant.

        I can enjoy everyone on the field right now, but I also want the front office to keep looking for ways to upgrade any of those positions when the opportunity arises.

      • Romus

        March 16, 2017 08:15 AM

        Concerning Joseph….the power is not a ‘Johnny- come- lately’ tool for him. When he was drafted by the Giants he was the leader in Arizona HS in HRs not far behind the record then held by Paul Konerko in ’94 then broken by Dylan Cozens with 19 in 2012.
        He was the Arizona HS Player of the year in 2009 and then in his first approx. 1300 ABs in the Giants org he hit 46 HRs, while also learning to catch. Unfortunately his first concussion occurred in 2010 when playing in the SALLY…and then it was a nightmare for him for the next few years with one after another, then the wrist injury on top of it all.
        He is legit power…in the class of Paul Goldschmidt power.
        .

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