Odubel Herrera’s Crash Course in Plate Vision

The average 45-52 year old Caucasian male baseball fan might not be paying attention to a rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies team in stages of its own infancy, nevertheless the development of the Rule 5 draft pick Odubel Herrera.  But an average baseball fan wouldn’t be reading about his new approach at the plate and development of a centerfielder on a maturing team.  

This 24 year old Venezuelan centerfielder signed as an international free agent with the Texas Rangers in 2008 and was selected with the 8th overall pick by Philadelphia in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft.  Herrera was groomed as a second baseman throughout his time with Texas, and only made the switch to the outfield for the 2015 season with Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez currently in the lineup at shortstop and second base.  Although so far this season Hernandez has made some mental miscues on the base paths including misunderstanding the infield fly rule.  Currently Herrera offers the team a solid center fielder with an upside.  The rest of the outfielders in their system are largely unproven.  He slashed .297/.344/.418 through 495 at-bats in 2015.

 At a glance one would think that Herrera is the below average offensive production with only 8 homeruns and 41 RBIs in 2015.  Yet his 3.8 WAR from 2015 represents a solid everyday major leaguer.  There is a metric called weighted runs created (wRC+) that measures the additional runs a player adds to a team, 100 is the average value of a player.  Herrera’s 2015 wRC+ was 110, slightly above average, but so far this season has a 143 wRC+.  This measure represents not only his value as a hitter, but also as baserunner, critical in the leadoff spot he occupies.   

A significant part of successfully getting on base requires the ability to draw walks.  Herrera had 28 in 2015, for a walk rate of 5.2%, with the league average around 8%.  His 24% strikeout rate is well above the league average 20% of plate appearances ending with a K.  These percentiles represent a young player new to the National League. Herrera is facing more skilled pitchers than he was used to in High A and AA during the 2014 season.   Even his 129 Ks were second lowest of the 6 qualified National League rookie-status position players.  He actually led all of those 6 qualified rookies in batting average with .297.  His average was ahead of the rising stars: Matt Duffy .295, NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant .275, Addison Russell .242, Michael Taylor .229, and Joc Pederson .210.  

Following the 2015 campaign, he worked with Steve Henderson, Philadelphia’s hitting coach, to change his approach and strikeout less than he did in 2015.  He was not concerned about improving his walk rate, because even his .344 OBP led the team among those who played anywhere near a full season.  He also pulled the ball quite a bit in his rookie season, which has changed with his walk rate so far in this young 2016 season.  As it stands, Herrera is 3 walks shy of the total he had in 2015, and he’s only played 31 games.  

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His swing is much more of an inside-out swing path and has improved his frequency that he hits balls to the opposite field, as to avoid being a victim of the shift.  A 2015 pull rate of 35.2% is down to 23.5%.  He is hitting 40% of his hits, straight back up the middle, and 36.5% to left field.  When he wants to hit the ball for power, he reverts to pulling the ball, and has certainly showed that he hasn’t lost any of his occasional power.  Additionally his ground ball rate has improved 7% and swung at fastballs 6.5% more often so far in 2016.  

Much of this information must be taken with a grain of salt, seeing as it is only May, but an indicator of sustainable success is batting average on balls in play.  This measures how many balls hit into fair territory fall for hits.  His 2015 BABIP was .387, and so far in 2016 that value is .390.  That negligible difference means he isn’t just having more balls fall or sneaking through shifts, but he is hitting to the same degree as he did last year.  A significantly higher BABIP this year could represent short term success, but similar values lend themselves to being repeatable.  

To represent the change in approach, one can look at the swing rate, the value represents the percentile of pitches that are swung at.  He has swung 5.2% less often so far this season and 11.6% less swings on balls, outside the zone.  His plate vision has improved in one winter more than any player in the league has in recent memory.  For the balls that he does swing at outside the zone, he’s making contact on those 11.7% more often than he did last year.  In essence, he has significantly improved his understand of the strike zone and has improved his ability to defend with 2 strikes to foul off pitches.  He’s seeing more pitches now and that’s reflected in his .330/.455/.418 slash line and .898 OPS.  He has already produced 1.1 WAR which is on pace to finish better than his 3.8 total in 2015.   He certainly represents a top of the lineup hitter for a budding and maturing Phillies club.  

      

The Growth and Improvement of Dee Gordon

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Players can get better at baseball. No matter what the metrics say about their previous season, players can make adjustments and improve. This is where traditional scouting and training has its place in Major League Baseball. While metrics do a great job accounting for players regressing to the mean and other averages, metrics cannot account for a player making mechanical changes or being more comfortable in a certain environment.

In spring training of 2014, Dee Gordon was fighting for a roster spot. In this environment, it is hard to imagine he was particularly comfortable with his situation or confident. Gordon didn’t have a position and he hadn’t shown that he could even hit at the major league level.

Fast forward seven months and through the Dodgers run to an NL West crown, and the biggest knock on Gordon became his miniscule walk rates and on-base percentage. Gordon showed that he could hit major league pitching. His shortcomings in the field and drawing walks were quickly dispelled by his improved ability to hit the ball hard and cause havoc on the bases. Gordon put pressure on every team he faced from the moment he stepped into the batter’s box and at any point he could run.

Here’s a good example on the aforementioned pressure:

Let’s back track. Gordon went from a fringy big league starter to an all-star second baseman with a legitimate future in the league. Gordon, through all of that pressure in LA, won a spring training battle at a new position, improved on his already impressive stolen base percentages, became an above-average fielder, and also proved that he didn’t just have to use his speed to get on base. Gordon absolutely raked for the first half of the season in 2014, and while he did tail off, the production was still there.

Here are his stats from 2014:

.289/.326/.378

101 wRC+

64 Stolen Bases

3.2 WAR

Here are his stats from 2015:

.333/.359/.418

113 wRC+`

58 Stolen Bases

4.6 WAR

2015 NL Batting Champion

Wondering how much his skills could takeover a game in 2015? Here’s a nice example of Gordon tormenting the Phillies and starter Cole Hamels:

Entering spring training this year, Gordon had better confidence in himself, job security, and now the ability to focus more on drawing more walks and becoming an elite level defender. While Gordon didn’t improve much on his walk rate, his overall production shot through the roof.

Needless to say, Gordon was the lone bright spot for the Marlins during the first half of the 2015 season. Martin Prado, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and a host of other Marlins had disappointing starts to their season for the fish. While Giancarlo Stanton was able to blast 27 homeruns in 74 games, his overall health was a constant question mark.

Dee Gordon was the main constant for the season. A torrid April lead into a terrific May where Gordon still managed to keep his average close to .400. Then, Gordon became an all-star for the Marlins. The all-star game wasn’t new, as Gordon has been voted in the season before with the Dodgers, but Gordon was proving a point. 2014 wasn’t a fluke, and he was worth much more then Andrew Heaney and change in any trade.

Moving forward, Gordon will be looked at as a top MLB second baseman in extension talks. It’s up to the Marlins to pay him like one and keep Gordon in Miami.

Zack Greinke Opts Out of Contract

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Dodgers righty Zack Greinke has officially opted out of his contract with the Dodgers, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports on Twitter. The widely-expected move puts him onto the open market as one of the league’s most appealing free agents.

Greinke signed with Los Angeles as a free agent before the 2013 season, locking up a $147MM guarantee over six seasons. That was a nice enough payday as it was, but his representatives at Excel Sports Management were also wise to negotiate a provision allowing the veteran to opt out after the 2015 season. He’ll give up a guarantee of three years and $71MM, but Greinke figures to earn quite a bit more than that on the open market.

While Greinke is now 32 years of age, he’s also coming off of a sublime 2015 campaign. He led the league with a 1.66 ERA over 222 2/3 frames. Greinke retired 8.1 batters per nine via strikeout and induced a 48.0% groundball rate while permitting only 1.6 BB/9 and a league-low 0.844 WHIP.

Read more here:

http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2015/11/zack-greinke-opts-out-of-contract.html

Miami Marlins May Target Doug Fister This Offseason

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The Marlins have just snatched Pirates special assistant Jim Benedict to become their new Vice President of pitcher development. For the past few years, the Pirates have been the best organization in baseball in terms of rehabilitating the careers of starting pitchers.

Notable reclamation projects include:

AJ Burnett

Vance Worley

Franciso Liriano

Edinson Volquez

JA Happ

Jim Benedict has long been credited with being a key cog in the Pirates pitching machine. Benedict was also in the organization when Pirates’ catchers became some of the best in Major League Baseball. Both Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli took huge strides in the past three seasons as members of the Pirates, improving both offensively and defensively while catching the new and improved Pirates pitchers. Overall, we see that the general battery of the Pirates was in terrific form. The Marlins are banking on Benedict translating that success into a Miami team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 seasons.

Continue reading “Miami Marlins May Target Doug Fister This Offseason”

Daniel Murphy: Power and Money(?)

Daniel Murphy has been on a power surge this postseason, with 5 home runs in 7 games.
Daniel Murphy has been on a power surge this postseason, with 5 home runs in 7 games.

In the hours it takes me to write this, Daniel Murphy has probably saved at least three kittens from burning trees. But for the sake of time, let’s just try to cover what he’s doing one elegant bat flip at a time.

Daniel Murphy has homered again. This calls for us to have some fun with numbers (and money) and see just how many dollars has been put into not letting Daniel Murphy hit those home runs, and how many dollars will be headed Murphy’s way as a result.

For the fifth time this postseason, Murphy took an opposing ace deep to right field.

Take a look at whom he’s homered off of: (in order of home run)

Continue reading “Daniel Murphy: Power and Money(?)”

Jerry Blevins Out For The Season

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Left handed relief pitcher Jerry Blevins has re-injured his pitching arm and is out for the rest of the season, Joel Sherman of the New York Post Tweets. Blevins suffered a fall last week and fractured his arm, and he is expected to undergo surgery in the coming days.

Blevins, 31, was acquired in the offseason for outfielder Matt den Dekker. Though he started the year with seven scoreless innings, Blevins fractured his forearm in late April after being hit by a Dee Gordon line drive.

The Mets were aware that Blevins had fallen at the time they acquired fellow left hander Eric O’Flaherty from the A’s, however they did not know the severity of the injury. Fortunately for the Mets, the front office was able to acquire another lefty to step into their bullpen. Even without Blevins coming back at all, the Mets will still have O’Flaherty and Sean Gilmartin as their primary lefties out of the bullpen.

Blevins has been a productive and useful bullpen piece over the course of his nine seasons in the majors. For his career, lefties are only hitting .206 against him. The injury is not expected to be career threatening, and he will be a free agent this offseason.

Check out mlbanalysis.sportsblog.com

David Wright Eyes Return and Big Impact

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According to Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, David Wright is ramping up baseball activities as he works to finally return to the field. Wright, 32, has only played eight games this season as he deals with lumbar spinal stenosis. The injury is one of delicate nature, as there were some doubts within the Mets organization earlier in the year if Wright could return at any point this season.

On Thursday morning, Wright will practice at a Mets facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where Terry Collins will be present. Wright will continue to workout on Friday and Saturday and will be evaluated afterward. If all goes well, Wright may be in minor league game action as early as Monday. After he passes in-game tests, Wright will be up with the team as soon as possible to help the Mets down the stretch run. A couple target dates could be Friday, August 14th at home against the Pirates, or Tues, August 18th on the road against Baltimore.

The return of Wright would be a huge boon to the franchise that’s had one of the wackiest two weeks in recent sports history. Now, with the lineup bolstered by the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, and a herculean Lucas Duda, the Mets become a legitimate offensive threat. After the early season struggles when calling the offense anemic was a compliment, the team now becomes as strong as it’s been all season entering the most important stretch of the season against their softest part of the schedule.

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A franchise that is fighting to make the playoffs for the first time in 2006, the return of the franchise cornerstone and a dramatic postseason run could ignite the Mets organization at the perfect time. In the NL East, the Phillies and Braves are rebuilding. The Marlins are forever hampered by an ownership unwilling to spend an adequate amount of money on the team. The Nationals are continuously having trouble breaking through and being the juggernaut they were projected to be. Washington also has four key free agents they are unlikely to all resign, along with their own cornerstone players like Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper that are getting more expensive through arbitration.

If the Mets are able to infuse life into their fan base, skyrocket revenue, and continue to increase payroll to support their on-field product, they can take control of the division for the foreseeable future. A competitive team and postseason appearances have positive effects on franchises past each individual season.

It’s August 5, 2015, and the Mets are in first place. In two weeks, the captain may be back. In two months, the Mets might be back in the playoffs. The division is weakening, and the time to strike is now.

For more baseball analysis, check out mlbanalysis.sportsblog.com