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2021 report card: Odubel Herrera

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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins
Odubel Herrera was mostly competent in center field in 2021
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

This article touches on a sensitive subject, and I have requested that the comments remain open for this article. If everyone can conduct themselves with maturity, I think it is possible to have a thoughtful and productive discussion. But if commenters are unable to express themselves with civility and cannot show respect for others’ opinions, we will have to close the comments.

If you’d like to contribute to an organization that helps fight domestic abuse, please consider the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

I considered focusing exclusively on Odubel Herrera’s on-field performance with this report card. For obvious reasons, Herrera is a controversial topic. While it might be nice to think we can “separate the artist from his art,” based on the social media reactions I’ve seen whenever Herrera does something noteworthy - good or bad - I don’t think that’s possible. So, before I talk about how he performed as a player, I’ll discuss whether or not Odubel Herrera should have even been a member of the Phillies in 2021.

Odubel Herrera committed a heinous offense. I think just about everyone is in agreement in that. But opinions differ greatly when discussing what to do about that. Herrera essentially served a two-year suspension from the major leagues, but there is no consensus as to whether or not that is a suitable punishment.

There were many fans who were unhappy that Odubel Herrera was a member of the 2021 Phillies. Many believe that his crime disqualified him from ever stepping on a Major League field again. Others simply didn’t want to ever have to root for a domestic abuser, and it angered or pained them that their favorite team not only employed one but used him as a starter.

There are others who think that Herrera was punished for his crime, and since everyone makes mistakes, fans shouldn’t be unwilling to forgive him and let him resume his career.

At the very least, the Herrera saga illustrates that Major League Baseball needs to figure out a better policy for handling domestic abusers. The ultimate degree of punishment is largely left in the hands of the individual franchises, and in most cases, they’re going to err in favor of the team success.

At the time of his suspension, Herrera had been greatly struggling on the field for quite some time. In a way, that made the team’s decision easier. I wonder if the team would have been as willing to shelve him for so long if he was playing well at the time, or coming off an All-Star season?

Personally, my feelings on Herrera are mixed. I think what he did was horrific, and in a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to cheer for a domestic abuser. However, I’ve read opinions by experts that zero-tolerance policies aren’t always the best option and can sometimes cause more harm for the abuser’s victims.

I believe that players who commit serious crimes should definitely serve an appropriate punishment, but in most cases, I think there should be a path available to them to return. A lifetime ban might seem like the moral choice at first, but it raises many other questions. For instance, earlier this year, David Murphy of the Inquirer asked: If you don’t think Herrera should be playing baseball, should he also be disqualified from other professions as well?

One thing that I absolutely believe is that Herrera’s on-field performance does not make his crime any better or worse. I don’t care if Herrera wasn’t playing well when he was suspended. If you’re going to call for Herrera to be banned from the game, then I hope you will do the same if the next player who commits such a crime is an All-Star, or someone who you consider one of your favorites.

I’m also disturbed by the narrative that by playing well on the field, Herrera is somehow “redeeming” himself. Odubel Herrera can redeem himself by repairing his relationship with his girlfriend. He can redeem himself by helping to end the plague of domestic abuse. He cannot redeem himself by hitting a home run or making a diving catch.

I’m not sure if anyone cares at this point - or ever did - but I will now shift to discussing how Odubel Herrera performed on the field in 2021, and what his future may bring.

The good

Center field was an absolute disaster for the Phillies at the beginning of the season. Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn both failed miserably, partly prompting Herrera’s return to the big leagues. Unfortunately, Herrera’s first couple of weeks back with the team were just as bad as the others.

After Haseley took time off and Quinn suffered an injury, Herrera became the primary centerfielder, and soon turned his season around. Mostly hitting out of the eighth spot in the lineup in the early going, he turned center field into a positive. He put up an OPS of .804 in May, and according to most metrics, played above average defense in center. He was also arguably the team’s best non-Bryce Harper position player in August, with an OPS of 1.043 for the month.

The bad

The Phillies lacked good options for a leadoff hitter, and Joe Girardi decided that Herrera’s speed made him the best choice. Unfortunately, the primary job of a leadoff hitter is to get on base so that the heavy hitters behind him can drive him home. And Hererra was not very good at that.

His on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter was just .287 and is one of the reasons why Bryce Harper’s RBI totals were so low.

The future

Herrera’s team option was not picked up for 2022 and he is a free agent. But it isn’t inconceivable that he could return to the team

Despite some flaws, Herrera had a decent season overall. Joe Girardi seems to like him, or at least he seems to like him more than the in-house options (Haseley, Mickey Moniak), so instead of spending trade capital or money on a flawed free agent, the team might opt for a (presumably) inexpensive player who showed he could at least play at an average level.

The team would likely take a public relations hit for bringing Herrera back, but considering they already took a big hit when he returned to the Major Leagues, they might believe that most of the damage is already done.

Final grade: B-

Herrera was misused as a leadoff hitter, but he at least stabilized a position which was an absolute disaster for the first month of the season.