July 26, 2017

Sure, Odubel Herrera should keep his head screwed on more often, but let's back off the hate train a bit

For just over 90 seconds, Odubel Herrera stood in front of his locker stall in the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park and fielded a handful of questions while simultaneously getting ready for batting practice.

The questions came on Wednesday afternoon because Herrera was benched after the sixth inning of Tuesday night’s game when he failed to run out a dropped third strike on a strikeout. He departed the clubhouse before the media entered the previous night.

Herrera was not in Pete Mackanin’s starting lineup on Wednesday, although the manager said it was simply a way of giving his everyday center fielder (who has logged more innings than all but 15 major league outfielders) two days off in a row. It’s standard procedure (Dusty Baker did it a week ago with Bryce Harper) for managers to rest players the day before an off day in the team’s schedule, a way of getting an everyday player off his feet for consecutive days.

Still, it was interesting, even with Aaron Altherr returning from the disabled list to join a crowded group that included Herrera, rookie Nick Williams, and trade deadline-candidate Howie Kendrick, that Herrera was the odd man out a day after being pulled from a game for a lack of hustling.

Disappointed, Odubel?

“No, no, it’s the manager’s decision,” Herrera said through a translator. “There’s no trouble or no problem at all.”

Herrera spent nearly 15 minutes in Mackanin’s office earlier in the afternoon.

“He told me what I needed to hear, and he made his point across, so it went well,” Herrera said. “He calls me into the office to get advice, advice that I need obviously. And I take it. It’s always a good thing.”

But why does this keep happening? Herrera has been reprimanded more than a couple of times already this season for similarly instances of a lack of hustle or a lack of focus.

How does he plan to prevent this from being a regular thing?

As that question was being asked, Herrera looked at one of the clocks over the entry way into the clubhouse. With about a dozen reporters around him, he tried to signal he had to go.

“Stretch,” he said in English. “Sorry, gotta go.”

One more question came, though: Was it wrong not to run that ball out?

But Herrera was gone. Someone then made a well-timed joke that it was that fastest Herrera had run anywhere in the last 24 hours.

With all of the joking aside, let’s get to the larger point: the Phillies, in the midst of what will be their sixth straight season without a winning record, have a lot more pressing issues than the (sometimes-more-than) occasional mental lapses of their regular center fielder. In the aggregate, Odubel Herrera is a very productive player whose strengths outweigh his flaws in the business of trying to win baseball games.

Did missing his third base coach cost the team a game earlier this year? Yes, it was a factor. Did failing to run out a dropped third strike change the outcome of Tuesday night’s game? No, it did not.

Sure, Herrera definitely needs to clean up his mental miscues. The man who reprimanded him on Tuesday night (and on Wednesday afternoon?) believes the mercurial, 25-year-old has been doing just that lately.

“I'll tell you what, when you think about it, his peccadillos haven't been as frequent as they have been in the past,” Mackanin said. “He still has a few.”

Where Odubel Herrera ranks among MLB outfielders (min. 1,000 plate appearances) since the beginning of the 2016 season:

  Total since '16MLB rank 
BA  .2817th 
OBP  .344 10th
OPS  .771 12th
XBH  84 13th
2B  53 9th
SB  30 2nd
Hits  2679th 

*stats accumulated from baseball-reference.com's Play Index

But Herrera, who is one double behind Washington's Daniel Murphy for the NL lead this season, is hardly the first player in the history of the Phillies or major league baseball to be reprimanded for a lack of hustle on multiple occasions. Heck, there was a player in town not that long ago who drew similar criticism from fans … and he was also a National League MVP winner and pivotal member of a team that won a World Series, two NL pennants, and five division titles.

Comparing Herrera to Jimmy Rollins is a bit unfair, of course, since Rollins happens to be the all-time hits leader for a franchise that’s been around for 135 years.

Still, do you think the criticism of Herrera would dominate all Phillies conversations during a 24-hour news cycle if his team was a contender and not what they are four months into the 2017 season, the worst team in baseball? No, it certainly would not.

Sure, fans have reason to be annoyed and angry as the Phillies stumble toward another last-place finish and often give little incentive to come out to the ballpark during the summer, unless you like bobbleheads, Theme Nights, or postgame country music concerts. But to pin your frustration on the team’s most productive offensive player in the last two seasons?

A psychology major may say you’re guilty of projection. You may not like the entirety of Odubel Herrera’s game, but to lump all of your frustrations with the Phillies on one (productive) player would be misdirecting your frustrations.

A common mistake critics of Herrera’s game make is to come to that conclusion that Herrera, given his mental lapses, cannot be a leader or a player the Phillies build around. But no one said he had to be either of those things: Herrera can be an important complementary piece to the core of the next contending Phillies team, just as Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, and others were complementary players for the most recent contending Phillies teams.

Herrera needs to pick up his base coaches regularly, he needs to keep his brain attuned to the game, and he needs to run out ground balls, fly balls, and dropped third strikes more often than not running out ground balls, fly balls, and dropped third strikes.

As for flipping his bat, honestly, who cares? Players can have fun; it’s sports, they’re supposed to be fun. And if a pitcher or opposing team takes issue with it, they can hit him in his next at-bat and that’s that, and the players can police themselves.

Again, in the aggregate, Herrera is and has been a productive player and, in case you haven’t been paying attention, the Phillies need those more than ever at Citizens Bank Park, warts and all.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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