I’ve always been a big Odubel Herrera guy. Those of you that read the site know that I’m staunch supporter of his and that I like to twist the knife whenever he produces a high-effort play that contrasts with what I feel is an overblown narrative in this city about his lack of hustle. I’ve also long defended his occasional lapses in concentration, quickly pointing out how his production and value are more than enough to offset the occasional blunder. So when stuff like this happens:
Daniel Descalso with the little league home run to put the @Cubs up 4-3 in the bottom of the 8th!
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) May 21, 2019
I typically give him the benefit of the doubt. But I gotta say, as much as it’s a painful blow to my contrarian beliefs, I’m struggling right now. I’m struggling because the production just isn’t there, and, if we’re being honest, it hasn’t been for a year now. I don’t mean that in an exaggerated sense either. It’s been a literal calendar year of underwhelming results.
Let’s rewind it back to May 21, 2018. Herrera collected two hits in a 3-0 win that helped move the Phillies to 27-18. He left the park that day hitting .348 with a .956 OPS and seemed headed for a surefire National League All-Star selection. That didn’t happen. He hit only .216 over his following 209 plate appearances leading up to the break and was rightfully left out.
He briefly regained his footing in July before flaming out in August and September, finishing the year with a disappointing .255 average and .730 OPS. No doubt, Herrera wasn’t the only Phillie to struggle down the stretch, and there had been a multi-season body of quality production to reasonably believe he could bounce back this season, particularly with reduced pressure at the bottom of a much improved lineup. That, too, didn’t happen—or it hasn’t yet.
He enters tonight’s game with the Cubs hitting only .225 with a .638 OPS that is substantially lower than his career .757 OPS. Interestingly, his strikeout and walk rates aren’t wildly different than his career norms, and, in fact, he’s swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike than he did over the previous two season. Still, his on-base and power numbers are each significantly down through his first 111 plate appearances this season as is his production against both fastballs and changeups.
According to FanGraphs, his .689 career OPS against changeups is down to .369 this season – more than 300 points -and his .772 OPS against four-seam fastballs is down to .644. His pull contact is up by about 10 percent, and to me, these numbers would seem to indicate the work of a hitter who’s simply not trusting himself and one who’s also guessing too much. If this were merely a 33-game sample, again, I’d say no big deal, but again, it’s been a year now.
Go back to this date a year ago and he’s 110 for 501 (.220) with a .271 on base percentage. That’s bad. When you break down his OPS by month, beginning with last August, it gets uglier and provides more context to his prolonged struggles.
- August 2018: .576 OPS
- September 2018: .480 OPS
- March/April 2019: .700 OPS
- May 2019: .558 OPS
That’s three out of four months where Herrera has failed to eclipse a .600 OPS, nearing the territory of indefensible, and 539 plate appearances over a year doesn’t exactly warrant a small sample size qualifier. If this were the 2015-2018 Phillies, I’d say there’s more than enough talent in his 27-year-old body to let this thing play out, but if he doesn’t get back on track – and soon – the Phillies will have to decide how much longer they can afford to roll with the status quo.
Is Scott Kingery the answer? Maybe. Gabe Kapler has expressed confidence in his ability to provide plus-defense at any position, but you would suspect the Phillies envision Kingery as a long-term infield solution. Plus, with Maikel Franco hitting .189 with 0 homers over his last 20 games, they have to be getting a bit impatient at third base, too. As versatile as Kingery may be, he can’t simultaneously play both spots.
Herrera can get hot – very hot – and we’ve seen it happen before, but with the trade deadline approaching in the distance for a team that looks poised to truly compete right now, he may be running out of shots to prove that it can happen again.