The Philadelphia Phillies take on the Washington Nationals in a weekend series at Nationals Park, and the Phils center fielder could be a key to success.
Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies’ best position player by far in the 2016 season, and has been one of the better center fielders in all of Major League Baseball.
The 2014 Major League Rule 5 Draft pick ranks fifth in fWAR (2.2) behind only Mike Trout (3.4), Dexter Fowler (3.3), Marcell Ozuna (2.3), and Jackie Bradley (2.2). Overall, Herrera ranks 21st in the National League in fWAR.
Herrera has been a spark plug for a mostly inept Phillies offense, batting leadoff in 42 games this year. With a 137 wRC+ in the leadoff spot, Herrera is the fifth-best leadoff hitter in the game with at least 180 plate appearances.
Per Matt Mullin at The Philly Voice, manager Pete Mackanin said the following about Herrera in the leadoff spot: “It’s great to have a guy like that start a game for you,. With his energy and ability to draw walks — or get hit by a pitch [laugh]. Or he can get a base hit, hit a double. And he’s got homer power too.“
The biggest key to Herrera’s offensive success this season has been his increased plate discipline. As a whole, Herrera has increased his walk percentage from 5.2% in 2015 to 15.2% this year.
If we look in-depth, Herrera has been more patient with his at-bats. Herrera sees an average of 4.25 pitches per plate appearance, compared to 4.01 his rookie year. This patience has led to the man known as ‘El Torito’ swinging at 6.8% fewer pitches outside the zone.
Herrera has also succeeded in making contact on more pitches, raising his overall contact percentage on swings from 76.7% to 79.9%. Notably, he has made more contact on pitches outside the zone, going from 61.9% in 2015 to 72.1% in 2016.
By making more contact and staying away from pitches outside of the zone, Herrera has also struck out less, with his strikeout percentage falling from 24% to 17%.
While offense has been Herrera’s strength, his defense has also been solid. Herrera has a revised zone rating (RZR) of .949, which is improved from his mark of .930 last season. This ranks ninth in baseball among qualified fielders.
With the Phillies finally coming back down to earth, it again looks like they will only be sending one player to the All-Star Game. Jon Stolnis of The Good Phight presented a solid argument for Herrera and/or Aaron Nola representing the Phillies in San Diego this July.
Stolnis noted that a plethora of position players from the Cubs looking as if they will be voted in (with no Phillies in the top five at any position) and the starting pitchers likely to be selected, there will be limited spots for Phillies players.
Nola and Herrera are having equally good seasons, representing different facets of the game, so while Herrera could get his first NL All-Star trip, the same could also be true for Nola. It is not likely that both will go, barring incredible stretches between now and the announcement of the team.
When Herrera was selected in the Rule 5 draft, most expected him to be replaced eventually by the top outfield prospects in the Phillies’ minor-league system.
Williams, Quinn, and Cozens are all nearing the Majors, with Williams already having success in AAA, and both Quinn and Cozens finding success with AA Reading.
However, after leading the team in WAR in both of his seasons with the Phillies, Herrera continues to show he deserves a long-term roster spot on the team. With increased plate discipline, he has been a consistent producer out of the leadoff spot and could end up with an All-Star spot.