Is Odubel Herrera Back?
Odubel Herrera ended the month of May sporting a 51 wRC+ and just 0.3 WAR. After two seasons in which the Rule 5 pick was arguably the Phillies’ best player, Herrera received a five year extension that established him as the first building block of the rebuild to be signed long term. He was one of several Phillies, including Jerad Eickhoff, Maikel Franco, and Tommy Joseph, who have experienced significant drop-offs in production the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Monstars roamed the earth.
Since the calendar turned to June, coinciding with a several-game sabbatical imposed by Pete Mackanin, Herrera has done nothing but tear the cover off the ball. In five games, Herrera has hit .550/.571/1.300 including 2 home runs and 9 doubles. He also recorded his first walk in nearly a month. The outburst has raised Herrera’s wRC+ 31 points to a somewhat respectable 82. He’s accumulated 0.9 WAR in that time, and now rates middle-of-the-pack among centerfielders in terms of value.
All of a sudden, Herrera is back on pace for his third consecutive 3+ WAR season. But the question remains: Is this a one-week aberration, or is Odubel Herrera truly back? Let’s see if his underlying tendencies have shifted.
You’ll notice the low O-Swing% and Z-Swing% correspond with a higher Contact% for both the first month of the season and the past few games. At the end of April, Herrera had a 99 wRC+ and 0.7 WAR. For the month of May, Herrera was all out of sorts, swinging at everything and missing too much. He posted a 25.9 K-BB% that would rank 5th worst in baseball for the full season.
This lends credence to the idea that Herrera was trying to “do too much” to combat the Phillies’ terrible play, trying to hit a five-run homer every time he’s at the plate, and making little contact as a result. We don’t often talk about the mental factors here on this fine statistics-based blog. But sometimes the narrative and the stats line up in a way that’s hard to ignore.
To Herrera’s credit, his defense has not suffered while he was mired in his slump. So far, he’s posted the best defensive numbers of his career. He’s currently tied with another former Phillies Rule 5 pick, Ender Inciarte, atop the defensive value leaderboards on FanGraphs. He’s also 5th among centerfielders in DRS with +7, already besting his total from last year and well ahead of the pace to beat his 2015 as well. It’s encouraging to see a player leave his struggles in the batters’ box when he takes the field.
Of course, we all realize that it’s too soon to declare Herrera “back”. It’s only been 5 games. But what we can say is that Herrera is swinging at better pitches and making more and better contact. His defense has been strong, and it seems like his approach is back in the right place. Things are trending up for the 25-year-old Venezuelan, and that puts the Phillies future just a little more in focus.
* All stats current entering play on Thursday.