In five or 10 years, a person looking at Odúbel Herrera’s 2018 season wouldn’t suspect that anything was amiss. The career-low in fWAR might jump out, but the other numbers would look fine. (As long as he doesn’t have an absolutely catastrophic last few weeks.) His 102 wRC+ is right in line with the previous years. The .324 wOBA sets a career-low but only by five points. The 6.8 and 20.6 walk and strikeout percentages don’t look too far off. The career-high in homers looks promising. The discrepancy is fWAR would be explained away by a weird defensive year and that would be that.
That retrospective narrative doesn’t tell the whole story of Herrera’s 2018; after a strong first half, he has been really bad, causing his season totals to be around league-average.
Odúbel Herrera’s season, much like the Phillies’, looked a whole lot better in the first half. Before the All-Star break, he slashed .275/.327/.460 for a 111 wRC+. Continuing a run he began last season, he assembled a 45-game on-base streak, the longest since Freddie Freeman’s streak of 46 games in 2016. Not only did he look like the best hitter on the Phillies, he looked like one of the best hitters in the league, at least through May.
Herrera, of course, is not one of the best hitters in the majors.
In the second half, Herrera is slashing just .225/296/.370 for a 77 wRC+. His .357 BABIP in the first half indicated he was getting a little lucky, but it is worth mentioning Herrera somehow owns a .345 career BABIP despite Fangraphs listing his career hard hit rate at just 27.1 percent. It was likely he would regress some, but it wasn’t unreasonable to think he was on his way to a career year. Regression reared its ugly head in the worst way.
In the second half, the lack of hard contact is finally catching up with him. His BABIP since the All-Star break is just .245. Herrera has gotten by without making consistent hard contact because when he can top out higher than most other batters. Out of everyone with a top 50 max exit velocity, Herrera has the lowest average exit velocity at 86.3 MPH.
Herrera can hit the snot out of a ball, but he’s also made soft contact just as frequently in 2018.
This year, Herrera has struggled against non-fastballs. Per Statcast, he has swung and missed at 41.2 percent of breaking balls and 36.7 percent of offspeed pitches. His previous highs were 35.6 and 32.5 respectively and both of those marks came in his 2015 rookie campaign. He’s also isn’t hitting breaking pitches as hard. His average exit velocity against breaking balls is just 83.4 in 2018
What’s interesting is that pitchers aren’t throwing him more breaking balls and offspeed pitches.
It’d be easy to explain Herrera’s sudden drop in production if the league had suddenly figured something out about him, but the change appears to lie within his own struggles as a hitter rather than opponent adjustments. He’s not squaring up curves with the same regularity and that lost production is hurting him.
The Phillies find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, with just a few weeks to go in the season. Herrera’s struggles aren’t the main cause for their woes, but they haven’t helped.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville.