Odubel Herrera: The First Piece of the Future
I am honored to be taking over for Eric here at Crashburn, this site has always been a place I looked up to. I am excited to work alongside the talented writers here and to keep the tradition of high quality analysis going into another Phillies season.
2017 will mark the Phillies’ first season without members of their 2008 core. The Phillies are not without veterans, and they are not without players who have been with the team for a number of seasons. What they lacked was any tangible direction for the future. This offseason the Phillies made their first long term commitment to their new core, signing Odubel Herrera to a long term contract.
Herrera has easily been the Phillies best player the past two seasons. Last year he turned a fairly fluky season as a Rule 5 draft pick into a sustainable All Star level contribution. He did it in a bunch of different ways, and that gives him still more upside.
In his first year in the majors a few numbers stood out for Odubel Herrera:
9.9 UZR/150 – 11 Rdrs/yr
Odubel was an aggressive hitter who didn’t walk and seemed to just luck into a ton of singles. Luck might be a bit extreme, but even with a 23.5% line drive rate his first year, a BABIP of .387 would be insane to project for anyone. In the field the metrics said he was really good, but it was hard to not see his circuitous routes in center as anything but a liability. If you were to ask how Herrera could make himself a better player, your answer would include something along the lines of walk more, strikeout less, and add enough other skills to deal with the BABIP and defense regression. So here are those same statistics, but this time from 2016.
3.3 UZR/150 – 6 Rdrs/yr
Herrera saw huge wins in plate discipline in 2016, and that holds true even if you throw out his insane April where he walked 22.1% of the time and only struck out 17.3% of the time. The increase in plate discipline coupled with an uptick in power allowed him to survive the nearly 40 point drop in BABIP to post an identical OPS+. His defensive metrics said he was worse in 2016, but by the eye test he was a better defender, and he could legitimately return to his 2015 value.
Before getting to the best thing about Odubel Herrera, I want to talk about a couple more numbers. The first is his batted ball data. Herrera is Top 5 in the league at hitting the ball the other direction. When he does it, it has a high rate of being a line drive and consequently a high rate of being a hit. The opposite part of this is that Herrera has shown that he has raw power, but it is to his pull side. If Herrera changes up that ratio, he could start to see his home run numbers trend up even more, but the price will come at the expense of his batting average.
The other thing is his stolen base numbers. In the first half of the 2016 season, Herrera was Cesar Hernandez on the bases, going 12 for 19 on stolen base attempts in 89 games. Over the second half of the season Herrera was 13 for 13 on stolen base attempts in 70 games. The consequence was a nearly 3 run swing in baserunning value between the two halves. If Herrera can become a high percentage base stealer, he will make the Phillies lineup much more dynamic.
Odubel Herrera the statistical baseball player is not the full reason why the Phillies committed as much as $50 million dollars this offseason. Odubel Herrera the baseball player is someone they can market the new look Phillies around. He is everything that has been fun about the World Baseball Classic this year rolled up into one crazy haired center fielder. Baseball is fun to him, he bat flips walks and then applauds himself down to first base, the small bits of the game can excite him. He is a player in constant motion, always with a smile on his face. He is a player the Phillies can build the future around, and while he may be surpassed as the best player on the team as soon as this season, he will still be the first player the Phillies declared to be a long term part of what they want to be.