Coming into this season, there was a feeling the Philadelphia Phillies might take a step forward. However, that’s been far from reality in 2017. As of Sunday night, the team had the worst record in baseball (27-53). The Phillies are 19 games out of first place, and fans are bewildered by a franchise that should have been past this point of a rebuild.
The frustrating start for the team has only exacerbated Odubel Herrera’s struggles this season. The 25-year-old came into the year following back to back seasons of above-average production at the plate. However, he currently owns a 72 wRC+, and those results have come along with increased tension between Herrera and his manager.
Matt Gelb chronicled some of the recent issues that have crept up in Philadelphia. He described Pete Mackanin’s approaches to “motivate Herrea.” Herrera has been moved around the batting order, benched, and fined since coming to the majors. Herrera chalks up his recent struggles and mistakes to a “lack of concentration” and “too much aggressiveness.” For Mackanin, Herrera’s other issues are an extension of this.
That increased aggressiveness has definitely been on display this season. Herrera’s strikeout rate has crept up to 24.2 percent, and his swinging strike rate is at a career-high 12.9 percent. Add to that a significant increase in his swing rate outside of the zone (41.6 percent), an increase to his overall swing rate, a decrease in his contact rate (75.7 percent), and his walk rate cut nearly in half (5 percent). All of these numbers seem to suggest that Herrera has in fact been hurt by his aggressive approach.
Prior to his current four-game hitless streak, it did appear that Herrera was turning things around. He got a hit in 10 straight games from June 16-26. In those games, he hit .333/.364/.429, and Hererra looked much more like the player the Phillies were hoping he would be.
Were there any concrete reasons for Herrera’s improved results over this admittedly small sample size?
Not surprisingly, there were improvements in his plate discipline metrics. In the month of June, Herrera had his smallest strikeout rate of any month this season (21.6 percent). That increased discipline also brought along with it a willingness to spread the ball around the field. June has been the only month in which he went to the opposite field more than center or pull. That coincided with a noticeable increase in his hard-hit rate.
The following two images compare Herrera’s zone profile by swing rate from the start of the season through May 31 and June 1 through July 1. There are a few noticeable differences. He’s doing a much better job of laying off pitches off the plate inside and outside. He’s still swinging at a high rate of balls low in the zone. He also seems to be focusing on pitches on the inner half of the plate, and those have been areas where he’s had a lot of success by batting average.
Outside of these potential changes, there are other reasons to believe Herrera will finish the season with better results at the plate. His .315 BABIP is actually pretty far below his career mark of .355. If a few more balls start to fall in play, his average will begin to creep closer to what fans were expecting. His HR/FB rate is as low as it’s ever been, and that should trend upward the rest of the season. Following a homer-less May, Herrera finally hit two long balls in June. There’s a lot of room for Herrera’s stats to naturally balance out given his track record.
Odubel Herrera had provided positive value for the Phillies in his two previous seasons, and it’s likely that he will continue to do so in the future. Even with his recent 0-12 streak, he seems to be trending in the right direction. By the end of the season it’s likely he’ll have put a positive spin on 2017, which is more than the Phillies can say on the whole.
Stats are current through July 1.
Eric Roseberry is a writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @ericroseberry. You can also read his work at Baseball Prospectus and The Sporting News.