Adjustment Required

It is mostly a fact that all baseball articles concerning Odubel Herrera note the accomplishment of something remarkable. In 2015, it was a league leading BABIP driving a successful Rule 5 season. In 2016, he spent the month of April collecting all his walks for the year. In 2017, the story has been his range in the outfield. In between these accounts, there’s probably one or two about a lack of hustle or a bat flip that killed a passing bird. Still remarkable, if not entirely relevant to his baseball talent.

In that sense, the current post is a departure, as it regards Odubel’s very unremarkable offense this year. His current 82 wRC+ is a healthy clip below the league average. And beyond the face value of the results – a .255/.314/.390 batting line – there are underlying problems driving the dip in performance. To that point, here are two numbers deviating in the wrong direction.

O-Swing% Z-Contact%
2015 35.1% 85.4%
2016 34.1% 86.5%
2017 43.8% 81.0%

Swinging at more pitches outside of the zone and making less contact on pitches inside the zone is a bad combination. These are not subtle changes, either. They are huge red flags. A dramatic change in plate discipline like this can sometimes come with a change in approach by the hitter, but there is nothing to show that Odubel has altered his approach in any way. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it is the pitchers who are altering their approach.

Up until this year, Odubel was pitched a certain way. Most of the fastballs he saw were located on the outside half of the plate and beyond. Take a look:

Because pitchers fed him fastballs over the outer half, and because most offspeed pitches are also thrown away from the hitter, he only ever needed to cover one half of the strike zone. To his credit, Odubel took advantage. He would sit back on the offspeed pitches and allow fastballs to get deep in the zone before shooting them to the opposite field. Only three qualified hitters sent a higher percentage of balls the other way than Odubel in 2016. While going the other way is not the best route to power, he collected hits in bunches with this approach.

With that knowledge, consider the adjustment pitchers are making in 2017 with their fastball location:

If not obvious from the chart, Odubel is being challenged with fastballs both up and inside, forcing him to expand his coverage of the strike zone. Instead of sitting on those outside pitches and sending them to the opposite field, he’s being made to cover the inside part of the plate. You can see this change in the direction of his batted balls.

Pull%  Cent% Oppo%
2016 26.7% 37.5% 35.8%
2017 33.7% 37.5% 28.8%

Moreover, the high and inside fastballs give reason for the noted contact and discipline problems. Odubel was never very discerning in regard to balls and strikes, but because he mostly ignored the inside edge, he also ignored the pitches coming too far inside. By getting Odubel to acknowledge the inner half of the strike zone, pitchers are exploiting his aggressiveness in an entirely new area outside of the strike zone.

Beyond that, the high and inside pitch is opening up new swing-and-miss in Odubel’s game. By keeping him from committing to the outer half of the plate, pitchers are getting him to miss more frequently in that same area. The real problem pitches have been the sinker and the changeup, the pitches that fade down and away when thrown by a right-handed pitcher. These are pitches he handled last year but are now giving him fits. His whiff rate has gone from 6% to 12% on the sinker and from 15% to 24% on the changeup. This is all contributing to a 27% strikeout rate against right-handers, leading to a 52 wRC+ against pitchers in which he has the platoon advantage.

Odubel has hit his way out of slumps before, but this issue poses a different type of challenge. It’s going to require some form of discipline. The solution is probably akin to what he was doing before: pick an area of the strike zone and ignore the rest. Maybe he will refocus on the outer half and start slapping hits into left field again. Or maybe he will start driving the inside pitches over the outfield wall in right, justifying a few of those bat flips. You never know. Odubel is well-acquainted with the remarkable.

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8 comments

  1. Robin Mitchell-Boyask

    May 17, 2017 06:34 PM

    -
    -31

    He might be the equivalent of the Eagles’ Vinny Curry. Really talented, then got paid, and then….

    • Romus

      May 18, 2017 11:17 AM

      Robin Mitchell-Boyask….wow you top my best number on the negatives/thumbs down.
      Nevertheless, I hope that is not the case…….he is still busting it out in the field with better results, and maybe when the weather gets a little hotter he will also get hot.
      He is sort of a streaky hitter and maybe he will make the adjustments as the author mentioned above.
      I am sure the Phillies, and I like to think Matt Stairs, are aware of his last six weeks trend.

      • Edwin

        May 18, 2017 02:56 PM

        Dude, there is absolutely no excuse for not busting it out. Herrera, as a player is just okay. He really is not that great of a fielder and I expect he will be traded before the next parade down Broad Street.

      • Romus

        May 18, 2017 06:02 PM

        His defensive metrics indicate otherwise that he is more than just ‘not that great of a fielder’.
        When others like Kiermaier, Hamilton, Inciarte , Pillar are only a few points higher in the ’16 SABR Defensive Index…and they are considered a group of outstanding defenders, I like to think he is better than the average CFer

      • Romus

        May 18, 2017 06:06 PM

        Also his projected BR dWAR for 2017 right now stands at 2.4.
        If that stands the test for the whole season, he will be in the GG running.
        But of course his offensive production has to pick up , since that also seems to play a part in the voting anymore.

  2. RichardH

    May 19, 2017 02:05 PM

    While Odubel covers a lot of ground, his arm isn’t very good. He also strikes out way too much. On pace for over 150 strikeouts this year. Clearly he needs to hit in the 7 hole for now.

  3. Martin

    May 20, 2017 09:37 AM

    “He has to be a little bit more disciplined,” Mackanin said. “I don’t think he’s seeing the ball well for some reason. He might be over-swinging. That’s probably part of it.”

    • Martin

      May 20, 2017 09:47 AM

      It’s also helpful to look at heat maps of results produced by the hitter within those zones. Historically, OB has not really had too much trouble with inside pitches. His average & slugging are pretty good inside. He can hit those pitches when he gets grooved in and seeing pitches.

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