Below, you will see what might look like a picture of Odubel Herrera sliding into home plate, inexplicably still holding his bat. Not only would a player not typically do that, but that player would not ever be Herrera specifically, given that his bat is often several body lengths away, whether he’s homering, doubling, flying out, or walking, and sometimes he doesn’t even toss it in the direction of the right dugout.
This was the result of a swing-and-miss. Four pitches later, Odubel Herrera notched his fourth hit of the night. pic.twitter.com/blYUo3EjNc— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) July 23, 2017
But no. As the tweet indicates, it is merely an image of Herrera having fallen down after a particularly passionate swing and a miss.
What followed this moment was the cherry on top of a prolific night at the plate. Which serves to showcase Herrera in a nutshell.
He's either here.
And he doesn’t always look good doing it.
Flipping his bat on an out, flipping his bat to the other teams’ dugout by mistake, not running out a pop-up or a dropped third strike - it’s cringeworthy. Some of it, I feel, is worth merely a chuckle. Some of it warrants a word from a coach or teammate. But those are the chief complaints about Herrera, and they’re more easily forgivable for a guy hitting .348 in July and .337 since June 1, who by just about any metric is one of the most talented defensive outfielders in the game. But it is less easily forgivable when that guy is on a last-place team, festering in frustration in the clubhouse, and surrounded by some media and fans eager to feel like they have the power to “run somebody out of town.”
Clearly, Herrera is talented. Clearly, Herrera has emotions. He is a player who seems to operate in extremes: If Odubel is taking a pitch, he takes the hell out of the pitch, to the point that you’d like to see him be a little less obvious about it. If he's swinging, he sometimes falls down in the box, to the point that you wonder where he’s keeping his weight in his stance. Then again,
Odubel Herrera follows up one of the worst 3-1 swings you'll see in your life with a frozen rope ground rule double to deep center. Enigma.— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) July 23, 2017
Herrera’s play style, however you’d catalog it, at times involves doing everything to the wildest, wackiest, loopiest degree. It's fun when it's good stuff. It is not fun at all when it's the bad. Why were he and Cam Perkins almost seriously injured during that catch on a fly ball in Miami? Is no one calling for the ball? Are people being ignored when they do? Even if they had messed up the catch, which either of them easily could have, and not been hurt, we'd all be talking about yet another hamster-brained Odubel play.
These sort of issues - the ones that deny fundamentals or look like he’s undergoing a shortage of focus - are the ones that should be curbed. Bat flipping on a deep fly ball out isn’t the coolest thing in the world, but the only guy it embarrasses is Odubel Herrera, and he doesn’t seem to mind; if he did, he’d stop doing it. Unfortunately, when the opposing dugout erupts into mockery of his mistake, Herrera is also the sort of player with raw enough emotions to be susceptible to that negativity getting stuck in his head.
When you have a player who is fun to watch, it’s usually - as it is in this case - because of their highly emotional style of play. They’re excited. They get you excited. We’re all very excited here when Odubel Herrera gets a hold of one and cooly flips the bat because he’s done with it. And even the rarely critical Tom McCarthy would agree that some nights, this team could use an extra injection of enthusiasm.
Jeff, you are right. They are flat. https://t.co/4CTryIs6GH— Tom McCarthy (@TMacPhils) July 26, 2017
But there is another end to that spectrum, one that is equally emotional, but not as fun, and we see that when he slams his bat in anger, jogs to first in disgust, or forgets what he’s doing on the base paths because of... something. He’s not happy, and we’ll always know when he’s not happy, because he has the most palpable emotions in the sport. And there have been occasions in which these moments have bled into a play, created a problem, or stirred confusion.
Teammates have approached Herrera to talk about it; some have even spoken about him publicly, for some reason. Coaches have been visibly angry with him. He blasted through Juan Samuel's stop sign, that was bad. He's a talented baseball player with some wobbly parts and sparks flying out. People want to see him be more of an efficiently humming baseball machine, who also flips bats and has fun.
So, how do you teach things like not letting mistakes get to you to the point that the rest of your night is off, or how to overcome frustration when it’s bubbling up inside you because you missed a fat meatball and sent a high-bouncer to shortstop instead of a rocket into the seats? The best way is time. More exposure, more digestion of the game, leads to growth and a better grasp of how to react. But time is slow. What you can do now(ish) is give him a preview of what he could look like after that growth has occurred, which is where “veteran presence” comes in.
There's no Chase Utley or Roy Halladay or Ryan Howard in the clubhouse anymore. Howie Kendrick, while great and a fine example to follow, has been hurt for long stretches, and likely departing from the team in the short or shorter term. Andres Blanco, if he is still playing the same praiseworthy role he played last year in the clubhouse, isn’t having the right impact, because we’re still having this conversation about Herrera (Granted, some people looking to dislike Herrera for their own reasons will be having this conversation for as long as Herrera is around). But as far as everyday players who lead by experience and example, the Phillies have a shortage. Freddy Galvis is the elder statesman in that regard, and he’s only two years older than Herrera.
That sort of guidance would at least be an outlet for what must be a cluttered mind: Herrera’s got a five-year extension and he’s trying to play to match it. He’s on a bad team that’s worse than anybody would have expected. His home country of Venezuela is mired in conflict. His minor league education came to a halt at AA after he was snatched from the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft. This season, he became, through absolutely no fault of his own, the unwitting center of a debacle that pitted him, in some fans’ eyes, against the most historical face of the franchise.
Personally, I think Odubel Herrera is the most fun player on the Phillies, and statistically the best hitter at the moment. You don’t have to agree on the “fun” part (You also don’t have to agree about the stats, but that in that case, you’d just be wrong). Herrera is a good ball player with some other issues to work out. Trying to force a narrative that he’s bad on the field is simply trying to excuse your personal frustration at/weird fear of his exuberant attitude. And personally, I hope any growth he undergoes doesn’t see that attitude stripped away.
There’s an answer here. Herrera isn’t the first young player to need to figure some things out. We don’t have to abandon a talented young outfielder just because he flips his bat and runs through a stop sign. We can cite the Mike Schmidt and Jimmy Rollins comparisons; how at the starts of their careers, they were sitting on reservoirs of talent that saw them take a beating among the fans before they emerged as stars, but the truth is, Herrera’s got some adjustments to make, and neither Mike Schmidt nor Jimmy Rollins, despite the parallels, can make them for him.
He’s made them before, evidenced by his approach at the plate ballooning his walk total from 28 in 147 games in 2015 to 63 in 159 games in 2016. So something’s ticking in there.
This season Odubel will become the 8th CF in 70 years to have 100+ hits and 2+ rWAR in each of his first 3 seasons. The other 7: pic.twitter.com/F4recfiHDO— Paul Boyé (@paul_boye) July 26, 2017
Hopefully, he finds the motivation to adjust without feeling like he has to change who he is. Because he doesn’t.