Considered the Philadelphia Phillies’ best hitter over the last two seasons, the wheels are wobbly for Odubel Herrera this season.
The Golden Sombrero is typically reserved for batters like Ryan Howard who swing big and miss even bigger. The dubious award honors a player’s ability to strike out four times in one game. Howard went on to garner the most golden sombreros of any MLB player with 27 over his 11-year career. I’m sure neither of the rooms in his massive mansion commemorates the career unaccomplishment. However, the ugly truth is that none of us are all too surprised the Big Piece took top honors in this undesirable award.
So when a contact hitter like the Phillies Odubel Herrera sports the Golden Sombrero, there’s cause for some head-scratching. Herrera donned the Mexican derby last week when he whiffed in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies for the fourth time in four at-bats. The silver lining to his golden day was that he at least fought to work the count full in order to avoid the dishonorable discharge. Herrera had whiffed the previous three at-bats on 1-2, 1-2 and 0-2 counts.
Oh, but it got much, much worse. The game went to extra innings and up stepped Herrera in the bottom of the 10th. With two outs and lefty Jake McGee on the hill, he raced through a cutter and two fastballs to capture the not-so-coveted Platinum Sombrero. The three-pitch final at-bat (seen at 0:33) ended with El Torito pulling everything from the high Dorito hurled by McGee. Herrera’s feet, hips, hands, and head all spun away from the pitch with the only positive being some momentum gained towards his long walk to the dugout.
This is very unfamiliar territory for the Philadelphia Phillies’ center fielder. While his strikeout total in 2016 was 134, Herrera didn’t have nearly as much trouble last year as he is in 2017 with two strikes against him. Last year, he was fairly cool under pressure batting behind in the count at .228 at 0-2 and .259 at 1-2. So far through yesterday, he’s struggling at .077 at 0-2 and .116 at 1-2. He currently sits at 50 K’s with eight of those whiffs over the past seven days. As a result, his strikeout percentage is at 24.9%, up from 20.4% in 2016.
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A shorter, more compact swing is the best weapon for a contact hitter like Odubel Herrera, especially when behind in the count. Even though his batting stance already has lots of movement, just last month it was a steady, straight upper body with a quick swing through the zone. Fast-forward to May against the Rockies, Herrera is clearly off-balance, almost lunging at the ball with a much longer swing. Wash, rinse and repeat for most of his at-bats throughout May.
But even when El Torito is making contact, his elevation on batted balls is down. This can be seen in his Ground Ball Out-to-Fly Out ratio which is up from last year’s 0.96 to 1.41 in 2017. His line drive percentage is a push at 24% to last year’s 25%.
And it’s not as if Herrera is lacking patience at the plate as he’s currently ranked 34th in the National League with 3.92 pitchers per at-bat (PPA). However, out of the top-43 NL batters in PPA, Herrera has swung at the most strikes at 81%. While that may be a good thing, he also as offered at the most pitches overall at 55% among the same NL leaders.
What all of the above means is that there’s a problem with the mechanics and not the player. More foul balls (increasing the number of pitches seen) and ground outs means that he’s simply not making good contact. Translation: the guy didn’t forget how to play baseball and I think it’s the reason why Phillies Manager Pete Mackanin allowed Hererra to try and hit his way out of this funk. That’s not to say he might not catch the occasional necessary break on the bench as seen in tonight’s lineup vs. the Marlins.
In my opinion, Odubel Herrera will figure it out over the next ten-game stretch. A simple tweak to steady his torso and delivering a compact swing through the zone should be the remedy Herrera needs. Having the veteran voice of professional hitter Howie Kendrick back in the clubhouse should also work wonders for Herrera and the rest of the Phillies offense.