Phillies 2018 report card: Second baseman Cesar Hernandez

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 29: Cesar Hernandez #16 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a two-run single against the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on September 29, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 29: Cesar Hernandez #16 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a two-run single against the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on September 29, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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Cesar Hernandez’s numbers took a dip compared to previous seasons. How much longer does the second baseman have left with the Phillies?

Cesar Hernandez ushered in a new era at second base for the Phillies after the departure of Chase Utley. After serving in a utility role for parts of three seasons, Hernandez got the chance to fully take over at second base in 2016. For two years, Hernandez provided consistency at the top of the lineup.

In 283 games in 2016 and 2017, Hernandez posted a .294/.372/.406 slash line with a 108 OPS+, 152 runs scored, 40 doubles, 17 triples, 15 home runs, and 127 walks. During this time, Hernandez ranked sixth in on-base percentage and 19th in walk-to-strikeout ratio among players with 70 or more plate appearances batting leadoff. While much of the lineup was constantly shifting, Hernandez found a niche as the team’s leadoff hitter with his consistent on-base ability.

This season opened with a major question mark for Hernandez as Scott Kingery signed a long-term contract before spring training even ended. After being the starter for two full seasons, Hernandez’s future was in doubt. For the time being, he remained the starter at second with Kingery shifting to shortstop. Unfortunately for Hernandez, that does not seem like a long-term option with a move back to second seemingly inevitable for Kingery.

Looking at Hernandez’s season, it was a down year compared to his previous two seasons. Now he is left to wonder whether he will be a Phillie next season.

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Positives

As he has for most of his career, Hernandez continued to get on base at a high clip. His .356 on-base percentage led qualifiers on the team. His 95 walks and 13.4% walk rate were both second-best on the team to Carlos Santana. Hernandez reached base 252 times this year, ninth-most among National League hitters. He also finished seventh in the NL 120 singles and 24th with 153 hits.

Hernandez also set new career highs in home runs (15), runs scored (91), and runs batted in (60). He tied his career high in stolen bases (19) and led the team. He finished second on the team among position players in Fangraphs wins above replacement (2.2) and Baseball-Reference WAR (1.4).

Negatives

As a whole, this season was not up to snuff for Hernandez. He finished with a .253/.356/.362 line, 100 wRC+, and 94 OPS+, all of which were worse than 2016 and 2017. His WAR totals were both among the best on the team, but they were both almost half, if not less than half, of his totals from the previous two years.

Much of Hernandez’s struggles came in the second half. At the All-Star Break, he was having a good season overall with a .270/.378/.382 line and 112 wRC+. His numbers took a major dive after the break as he hit .228 with a .657 OPS. The reason for these struggles may have been injury; Hernandez played through a broken toe he suffered when he fouled a ball off of it in July. Roman Quinn, who suffered the same injury, also struggled while trying to play through it.

Beyond his offensive struggles, Hernandez also produced poor results defensively. He led the NL in errors by a second baseman with 12. In addition, he had the worst defensive runs saved (-12) and fifth-worst ultimate zone rating (-3.1) among qualified second basemen. This came after two good seasons defensively at second, which is even more concerning. It’s hard to say whether this was the fault of Hernandez or how he was forced to play, but either way, he hurt the team on defense.

C-. . Second Baseman. Philadelphia Phillies. CESAR HERNANDEZ

Like I have said for many of the players I have graded, Hernandez’s season wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t great. It is definitely bad compared to his previous years, but he still provided some value on offense at the top of the lineup.

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Will he return?

As mentioned earlier in the article, Hernandez’s future was deeply impacted by the long-term contract Kingery signed prior to the season. It’s hard to imagine a situation with Kingery and Hernandez on the team without shuffling the roster. Hernandez recognized this fact at the end of the season, sounding less than confident he would return.

Hernandez still has two years of arbitration left before he reaches free agency. MLB Trade Rumors projects Hernandez to make $8.9 million next season. He is still a relatively cheap option, but not if he is forced into a backup role.

Hernandez’s trade value is way down compared to last year. Had he been traded last offseason, Philadelphia could have gotten back some good value for him. Alas, they now are stuck in a situation this offseason where other teams know they want to move Hernandez. His poor year didn’t help matters. Either way, this may wind up being the easiest option to clear up the logjam at second base.

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Hernandez served admirably as the team’s second baseman as they worked through the rebuild. He may not get the chance to see the fruits of the club’s labor; at least not in red pinstripes.

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