Fantasy Baseball

Double Down on Odubel Herrera

In 2015, former Rule-5 draft pick Odubel Herrera delivered a very good and promising season for the Phillies and, at minimum, raised his profile from a fourth outfielder to a potential long-term building block in Philadelphia.  Known for his pure athleticism, Herrera’s glove delivered in 2015, but to everyone’s surprise, the bat played surprisingly well especially in the second half when he increased his walk rate and triple-slashed .329/.394/.440.

Although there was some sleeper buzz because of the second half, Herrera’s detractors kept his 2016 draft price low, mostly by arguing that his .387 BABIP was bound to regress.  However, these critics turned out to be wrong as Odubel awarded those owners, who drafted him or snatched him off the wire in the early going.  When the dust settled on 2016, Herrera hit 15 home runs, stole 25 bases and hit for a very healthy .286 average on an inflated, but not ridiculous .347 BABIP.  Herrera also sustained and exceeded his surge in plate patience as his walk rate rose to 9.6%.

Now, in the lead up to 2017 fantasy baseball drafts, Herrera is no longer a bottom dollar player, who can turn a huge profit.  There is now some cost involved with taking Herrera.  He is the 28th overall OF and being selected in the 13th round of 12 team leagues with an ADP of 126.07.  Is he worth the price of admission?  Let’s take a look.

If Herrera duplicates last year, then he would return some profit at that price.  According to ESPN’s Player Rater, Herrera finished as the 75th overall player.  This is simple, right?  He could regress a bit and still be worth his ADP.  Yes, but things are never that simple.  We must dig deeper.

In terms of first and second half splits, 2016 was the reverse of 2015.  In the first half, Herrera hit 10 homers and stole 12 bases in the first half while triple-slashing .294/.378/.426.  Herrera increased his walk rate to over double digits – 11.6% BB% – and cut his strikeout rate to 18.3%.  At the time, it seemed that Herrera was building on last year’s second half and truly breaking out.

However, in the second half the walk rate nearly halved and the K-rate increased to 23.4%.  It was not all bad though, the batting average remained a solid .277 on the strength of a .355 BABIP and Herrera solved his problem on the basepaths converting all of his 13 stolen base attempts (he was 12 for 19 in the first half).

I do not think anyone can reasonably doubt Herrera’s athleticism and thus, his ability to sustain an above average BABIP.  He’s been a plus line drive hitter over his two seasons and supplemented that with a infield-hit percentage of 12.8%.  The question is whether the power will maintain.  There is a big difference between a .285, twenty-five steal guy that hits single-digits in homers compared to one that hits 15 or so.

Whether he will is a difficult question to answer.  In terms of power indicators, Herrera is not very strong – his hard contact rate was 27%, he hit more groundballs than flyballs (1.45 GB/FB), and pulled the ball just 26.7% of the time.  His StatCast data paints him as a below average power hitter as well, he below average in terms barreling the ball up and his exit velocity on line drives and flyballs is also subpar.  ESPN’s home run tracker declares that 7 of Herrera’s 15 homers were classified as “Just Enough.”

I went back and watched the home runs and while Herrera might not be an exit velocity darling, these homers are absolutely smoked.  Now, of course, it does not take much for a line-drive home run to become a line-drive double or triple.  However, my point is that Herrera may not hit the ball hard very often, but he does have the ability to drive the ball and to all fields.  Put another way, Herrera is not just a slap hitter.  Last year was his age-24 season and he could be finding his power stroke now.  Power tends to be last thing to develop.  These are the sort of things that we need to be mindful and why the eye test is so useful.

The other thing that owners need to be aware of is that Herrera has struggled against lefties, posting a .262/.329/.326 career line against them with a 25% strikeout rate.  His athleticism on the defensive side and lack of current viable alternatives are probably enough to carry him and keep him in the lineup against lefties so weekly lineup leagues do not need to panic.  However, in daily lineup formats, you might want to have an alternative on your bench for when Herrera is facing a left-handed pitcher.  There is also some risk that Herrera might become a platoon player as his defense fades with his athleticism.

I think Herrera is going to be a very useful player overall.  I think there is some room to dream on the power development, but I also do not think it is necessary for him to develop more consistent power to be a fantasy force.  I would not be stunned if Herrera developed into a 20 homer threat especially in Citizens Bank, but I think a slightly reduced projection from last year is warranted.  However, I am also willing to give him a slight boost in steals given his 13-for-13 in the second half.  Overall, I expect him to return similar value to last year and turn a profit for those that grab him at his ADP.

My Projection:  155 GP, 90 R, 13 HR, 45 RBI, 30 SB .280/.350/.410



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