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Cesar Hernandez, you continue to flummox me

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Cesar Hernandez has been red-hot and is having a surprisingly productive offensive season.

Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

There is no one who follows the Phillies who has been more frustrated with Cesar Hernandez than me.

I have on numerous occasions declared to the world that I "was done" with the Phils’ young second baseman. And I had good reasons.

Here are some examples.

I mean, that’s an impressive list of complaints right there. You can almost hear me bashing my face into the keyboard as I typed them.

His baserunning IQ, as mentioned above, has resulted in a number of outs on the basepaths this season. And on numerous occasions, it just seems like the kid is playing in his own world, like this in Miami last week.

But after a four-hit game in the Phils’ 13-8 win over the San Francisco Giants Tuesday night, Hernandez is on a tear and suddenly has one of the better on-base percentages in the National League.

In 103 games (385 PAs) this season, Hernandez is batting .296, with an eye-opening on-base percentage of .351. Since June 27, Hernandez is batting .368/.453/.456 with 7 stolen bases, 15 runs scored and a wRC+ of 148. He has walked in 10.9% of his PAs over that time and struck out in just 16.4% of them.

Over the last 14 days, he’s been getting on at an even more ridiculous pace.

Look at the only two batters ahead of him. Geez.

Among qualified second basemen, Hernandez’ .296 batting average is 5th-best in the National League and his .351 OBP is 6th-best. His 1.8 fWAR is also 6th-best in the NL among all second basemen, with only Daniel Murphy (4.5), Matt Carpenter (3.1), Ben Zobrist (3.1), Jean Segura (2.4) and Neil Walker (2.2) ahead of him.

Cesar doesn’t hit for much power, with just 2 home runs and 10 doubles, resulting in a slugging percentage of .319 for the season. But he has the speed to stretch out a bunch of triples, with 7 of them so far this year. It is his lack of power, however, that is why his wRC+ is a bit below league average, at .96.

Still, Hernandez has been worth 1.8 fWAR, coming off a season in which he batted .272/.339/.348 in 452 PAs, generating a wRC+ of 91 and an fWAR of 1.4. And if you look at the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined, Hernandez has batted .283 with an on-base percentage of .345.

I’ll say that again, because it’s astonishing. Over the last two years, in which he’s basically been the full-time second baseman, Cesar Hernandez has an on-base percentage of .345. Odubel Herrera’s is only slightly better over the last two years, at .353.

Look, I don’t know what to tell you, here. Cesar Hernandez is on pace to play a full season as the team’s second baseman and, in early August, has the third-best OBP among Phillies players with at least 160 PAs (Herrera and Ruiz are the only ones better). And only Herrera has accumulated more hits this year (114), than Hernandez (104).

Of course, the question we need to ask ourselves is, can Hernandez continue to do this going forward? Should he be the man to play second when J.P. Crawford is called up, or should Freddy Galvis, who is a far superior defender, be given the job? Or should the Phils go out and sign a free agent?

It’s important to note that Hernandez is always going to be dependent on his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is a sky-high .368 this season. The league average is .299. Some regression should be expected. However, players who put the bat on the ball a lot, hit the ball on the ground and rely on their speed, tend to have high BABIPs.

After all, Herrera’s BABIP is .333, and it was .387 last year. Last year, Hernandez’ was .342, and throughout his minor league career has always been in the mid-to-high .300s. A high BABIP has always been part of his game, as it has for most speedly lead-off-type hitters.

But speed is something that will fade with time, which will turn many of the base hits he gets now into outs. Hernandez has 13 infield hits this year, tied for 17th-most in baseball (Herrera leads MLB with 24). And Hernandez has 10 bunt hits, tied with Chicago’s Adam Eaton for most in the bigs.

Of course, Hernandez is just 26 years old, so the wheels shouldn’t be a problem for a few more years. And surprisingly, Fangraphs’ defensive metrics say he’s been a slightly above average defender this season, with 0 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), meaning he’s been a neutral defender, according to that metric. Baseball References’ dWAR of 0.2 has him right around that same area.

I’m going to be straight with you. Hernandez’ baseball IQ is still among the worst I’ve ever seen. He commits far too many mental mistakes during the course of a game, and despite what the metrics say, he is not a terribly good defender.

But while it’s hard to see how he can sustain the kind of offensive production he’s put out this year, the numbers are what they are. Hernandez is avoiding strikeouts, drawing a surprising number of walks, and putting the ball in play, using his speed to get on base.

I’m still skeptical that he’s going to be the team’s second baseman long-term. But if he continues to get on base 32-35% of the time, he has real value as a league average second baseman.

And that may be enough to clinch the second baseman’s job for the foreseeable future.

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