You have to dig a little deeper to get to the actual baseball when discussing the Phillies right now.
On the top player is the drama; the Gabe Kapler-booing, the Nick Williams-shaming, the clubhouse-grumbling; the analytics-bashing; the J.P. Crawford-demoting. There’s enough there to keep the obese, tittering hamsters who run our city’s talk radio elements fed for weeks. From their warm nests of garbage, they will chirp over only the most critical Phillies issues of the day, like whether a manager will be fired within the first ten games (he won’t), to whatever this person is so upset about, which appears to be that Odubel Herrera is somehow “selfish” for still wanting to get on base and be productive after his team had scored eight runs in an inning.
The next layer down would be the positives which, as is typical, are overshadowed by the shrieks and boos. In any case, you can’t deny that Rhys Hoskins has failed to disappoint out the gate, leading the National League in BA (.440), OBP (.559), and second only to Bryce Harper in SLG (.760) through 25 AB. Cesar Hernandez is third among NL second basemen in OBP (.444), and you can’t think that Ryan Flaherty will be leading the pack for long. Hoskins and Hernandez are tied for the team lead in walks (7), and hell, let’s just mention it: Maikel Franco is behind only Bryce Harper and Gregory Polanco for the league lead in RBI (11).
But beneath all that is Odubel Herrera, who in the 2018 season is probably best known thus far for the comments he made on opening day— making him the first player to voice a complaint under Gabe Kapler’s management. The fact that he did so before the first pitch of the first game made a lot of neck hair stand up, given that Kapler’s system is radical and different, so a key player already upset by it was news. At the time, the complaint was archived for later, but with two players—one anonymous, one Nick Williams—becoming more vocal about the unstable playing time available for most of the Phillies’ roster, Herrera’s comments have resurfaced to further bolster the idea that Kapler’s locker room is melting.
It’s certainly an issue that Herrera was immediately irked, but it can’t be surprising. It would be more startling if Herrera, the Phillies’ top performer and starting center fielder from 2014-17 and in 2016 their only All-Star, failed to speak up after a new manager came in, handed him a smoothie, and told him he wasn’t in the lineup on opening day. Like Williams, Herrera is young and competitive, but unlike Williams, he has established himself as a lynchpin of the offense and even earned a five-year contract extension. He’s here to play. And, two narrative layers down for the Phillies in 2018, he has been, when permitted.
After his initial gripes, Herrera has made it into the next seven games in some capacity and now lives behind only Rhys Hoskins in most statistical categories among players who see regular playing time, despite no one on this team really knowing what regular playing time is anymore: nine hits, three doubles, two walks, and a stolen base, with a slash line you can shake a stick at: .360/.407/.480.
It’s an April tradition for Herrera, who has a history of hot starts:
- April 2015: .301/.341/.422, 6 2B, 2 3B, 4 SB, 5 BB
- April 2016: .313/.462/.425, 2 HR, 1 2B, 1 3B, 4 SB, 23 BB
- April 2017: .262/.340/.417, 3 HR, 4 2B, 3 SB, 10 BB
Look at those walk totals fluctuate!
Herrera isn’t too far behind Hoskins, tied for eighth in the NL with Ben Zobrist for BA (.360, which is 4th among NL outfielders) and just outside the top 20 in OBP (.407). There’s a reason he wants to play—because he’s good, and he’s even better when his brain isn’t farting, as it is wont to do on occasion: On Sunday, he muscled his way to a double in the first inning and took third on a wild pitch. Meanwhile, Hoskins couldn’t even get the donut off his bat.
Look, we’ve all struggled with donuts. It’s not fair to call a guy out on that. And in fact, the Phillies offense is never clicking better than when Hoskins and Herrera are both doing their thing.
Herrera doesn’t need defenders; he’s an effective—though at times over aggressive—hitter, he plays stellar defense, and while he has had May swoons in 2015 and 2017 (a collective .192 BA for those two months) that have evened out his early season successes, his numbers can speak for themselves.
But I’m sure we’re on the cusp of another season during which we will have news cycles that feature poorly constructed debates over Herrera’s “attitude” or “work ethic,” things often shouted from the comfort of a couch. And Herrera’s always going to be susceptible to being anxious and twitchy at the plate, as evidenced when Jerry Blevins soft-tossed him three straight meatballs on April 3 and he couldn’t help himself.
Jerry Blevins just threw Odubel Herrera these three curveballs:— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) April 4, 2018
Two swings and misses and a pop-up to escape a two-on, two-outs jam. pic.twitter.com/oLpzXReZOh
But among the Phillies’ positives at the start of the season’s third week, Herrera is slowly working his way through the dense melodrama playing out as the team stabilizes itself. He may have had a rough first five games, he may have played into the narratives of turmoil surrounding the team at the moment, but unlike a lot of young players on the Phillies, Herrera has been here before. We know what to expect from him, and at the moment, he is delivering.