Phillies’ Odubel Herrera a Major Bright Spot


Odubel Herrera was a major bright spot for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015. 

Prior to the Phillies 2015 campaign there was little optimism at the Major League level. The Phillies farm system consisted of top prospects J.P Crawford, Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco. Most fans, and probably the front-office, figured they would see two of those three at some point in 2015, but none cracked their opening day lineup. The majority of pre-season talk centered around Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon–all of whom found themselves in trade rumors.

While there was a lot of negative talk surrounding the team and their 100-loss expectations, Rule-5 draft pick Odubel Herrera started to raise eyebrows in Philadelphia early on.

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Prior to being selected by the Phillies in the Rule-5 draft, Herrera was a prospect in the Texas Rangers system. While Herrera had shown the ability to hit, he lacked power, patience and a true position. By trade Herrera was a middle-infielder, who had played in the outfield now and then, including in the Venezuelan Winter League where he played 41 games in center-field and slashed .372/.432/.556 in 58 total games.

When the Phillies selected Herrera, they had Ben Revere patrolling center field. Revere was coming off a 2014 campaign in which he slashed .306/.325/.361. While the offensive numbers appear to be decent when you factor in that Revere stole 40-plus bases, his defensive numbers were not flattering.

In 2014, Revere was -18 Defensive Runs Saved in center field, according to Fielding Bible. Even if you don’t trust defensive metrics, we can always use the eye-test, and that would even tell us Revere struggled in center.

With Revere’s struggles in center, then manager Ryne Sandberg and company decided to give Herrera a shot in center. Herrera made the best of that chance.


On defense, there were obvious concerns for Herrera. As a player with no true position, Herrera had to prove that he was worth the risk in the outfield. In the early season, Herrera was shaky, prompting the Phillies to even move Revere back to center for a little while. This was partially because of Herrera’s struggles and an injury.

When Herrera returned, he regained the position for the remainder of the season. As I stated with Revere’s defensive metrics, it may not be perfect, but it a useful metric. In 2015, Odubel Herrera had ten Defensive Runs Saved in center field. If the defensive metrics are true, that is a 28 run swing in center field between 2014 and 2015.

Recently, I have started to question how much weight should be put in these metrics, but I still put some value in them.

The other part is the eye test. Whether you love it or hate it, player evaluation will be tied to the eye test. The reason I believe the defensive metrics are a good snapshot of Herrera’s performance is because of the eye test.

As the season went on, Herrera became comfortable with tracking balls down in the gap, understanding his distance from the wall and warning track, and getting better jumps. If you watched enough of Herrera, which wasn’t easy because of the overall product on the field, you could see the improvement over the course of 2015. In terms of overall ranking, Herrera’s ten Defensive Runs Saved was fifth in baseball–ahead of 2014 A.L MVP Mike Trout.


Prior to the season, I predicted a Herrera to hit .265/.328/.354 with 20 doubles, three triples, six home runs and 17 stolen bases in 26 attempts. When it comes to the slash line, I was off on all three, but mostly on the average and power. In 2015, Herrera slashed .297/.344/.418 in 537 plate appearances.

On-base percentage was my biggest concern with Herrera at the next level. If you cannot get on base, it is hard to give value to a team. During his minor-league career, Herrera never walked over 52 times in a season. If he wanted to hit toward the top of a Major League lineup, he needed to make the improvements that he did.

While many didn’t believe in his power potential, I saw something in Herrera’s swing that stood out to me. Despite hitting just 13 homeruns in just 2,337 plate appearances, video showed that Herrera created some leverage with his high leg kick. That power finally showed in his age-23 season. Herrera popped eight home runs in 537 plate appearances in 2015. That total far exceeded all expectations.

Power can also come with driving the ball gap-to-gap, which is what most thought Herrera would do. In fact, Herrera did do that, hitting 30 doubles and three triples, too.

Base-Stealing and Running

On the bases, Herrera stole 16 bases in 24 attempts. This is certainly an area that Herrera can improve heading into his 2016 campaign. In the minor leagues, Herrera stole 128 bases in 178 attempts–which is a 71.9-percent success-rate. With the speed of Herrera, the Phillies should expect Herrera to be closer to an 80-percent clip moving forward.

While there are many quantifiable things in Herrera’s performance, there appeared to be an issue with hustle during the season. The issue was taken head on by then interim manager Pete Mackanin, who benched Herrera late in the season after he didn’t like how he ran a ball out. After benching Herrera, Mackanin said:

"“Boys play Little League and men play Major League Baseball,” Mackanin told reporters after the game. “We will not pout, we will not feel sorry for ourselves. If you want to, then you don’t belong here. He had to learn a lesson. …“Lately he’s been showing his emotions a little bit more. We’re just not going to stand for it. He’s got to understand that it doesn’t work that way. I’m sure he’s going to understand.”"

I, for one, do not agree with benching players due to a lack of hustle. But if Mackanin thinks that will change Herrera’s viewpoint of hustle, sure, go for it. Going forward hustle may not be a major issue for Herrera, but I bet it will be brought up in the same way it was for Jimmy Rollins. Hustle is one of the things that we can’t perfectly quantify so it is easy to scrutinize. Herrera is young and sometimes you get caught in the moment. If it happens now and then, it is fine. If he is dogging it to balls in the gap out of frustration, that is when it will become more of a concern.

Surprisingly, Herrera led all Phillies position players in Wins Above Replacement, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. On FanGraphs, Herrera finished 3.9-WAR while finishing with a slightly lower 3.8-WAR on Baseball-Reference. Those are very respectable numbers, especially for a guy playing a new position and facing major league pitching for the first time. Even if you don’t trust Wins Above Replacement to quantify player performances, one cannot deny that Herrera had a very productive 2015 and exceeded all expectations.

As we head into the off-season, the Phillies can feel confident that they have found another very useful piece to their rebuild through the Rule-5 draft. Herrera exceeded all expectations, including my own, which were higher than most. Come 2016, I fully expect Herrera to be in the top-half of the Phillies lineup and most likely start in center field. I don’t know how they do it, but it appears the Phillies may have struck gold in the Rule-5 draft with an outfielder yet again.

Stat Sources: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference

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