Adam Haseley was supposed to be Opening Day centerfielder. Mickey Moniak was the logical second choice in case something were to happen to Haseley with Scott Kingery in reserve. Fourth on that list was Odubel Herrera, a guy who had become a pariah in the organization, and for good reason. There isn’t much reason to get into the details of what Herrera did - you already know. So, suffice it to say, the Phillies didn’t see Herrera as an option this season in centerfield.
The problem is, at the beginning of the season, the team was getting nothing from centerfield. Haseley needed to leave the team for personal reasons, Moniak proved he still isn’t ready for a full-time job in the majors and, well, the less said about Kingery, the better. Having nowhere else to turn to, Herrera was summoned to Philadelphia. And it didn’t start well for him either. Sucked in to the Bermuda Triangle that was the centerfield position, Herrera started off 2 for his first 24. Since that start, Herrera has hit .309/.374/.489, solidifying the position and giving the team a leadoff hitter that has given them a spark.
Among all centerfielders, Herrera ranks ninth in fWAR despite the other players getting a 50-60 plate appearance headstart.
Still lacking the willingness to take a walk, Herrera has improved a great deal this year with the bat by cutting his strikeout rate a ton. In a league where the strikeout rate has gone up, Herrera has dropped his own rate to 17.1%, down from his average of 21.8% from 2015-2019. For as much of a free swinger as Herrera is, this improvement is impressive.
For all the improvement he has made with the bat, it’s the defense that has been surprising. Never known for his glove, defensively, Herrera has improved quite a bit this season. By defensive WAR, Herrera is only 0.1 of a share behind Victor Robles for the top spot on that list. Since we have some better stats available to us via StatCast, we can go there to see that Herrera is one of the better defensive centerfielders out there.
It’s plays like these where Herrera has gotten better. Watching him play centerfield in the past was similar to watching someone being chased by bees, but he’s improved in a lot of areas. Plays like this,
where he is coming in on a ball much better are not plays he did well with in the past. But it’s plays like this one, ones that don’t have a huge bearing on the game, where you can see the ways that Herrera has improved.
It’s a long way to go since he had been positioned more in right-center and had to travel a long way to get that ball. It’s these little plays where the improvement has been made.
His best season with the glove came in 2017, four years ago. That year, Herrera had 11 outs above average (OAA), good for 8th in baseball. But if you go by his success rate and estimated success rate compared to this year, he’s arguably been better.
2017: 92% success rate, 89% estimated success rate
2021: 96% success rate, 91% estimated success rate
There is still time for those numbers this year to fluctuate in either direction, but it looks like the trendline is pointing upward.
As much as people may not like him, there really cannot be any denying that Herrera has been a boon to the team on the field. They haven’t had to go outside of the organization to find a solution, meaning they haven’t had to expel any prospect capital that they may need for a deal at a later date. Being able to find out that Herrera would be able to contribute something to the team is a plus on the playing field. Off the field, we cannot know what contributions he has made or if the entirety of the team has accepted him yet. Judging by the reactions from players on big at bats or good plays in the field, it would seem the majority has forgiven him. Whether the fanbase has is entirely their choice and their right.
No one is asking you to like Herrera. It is your choice whether or not you have moved on from the allegations against him or if you still wish he were elsewhere. However, if we stick to strictly on the field performance, there isn’t much to argue: Herrera has been a positive for this team.