Fire – Odubel Herrera
There were two very different sides to Odubel Herrera’s 2017 season. On one hand, you’ve got Odubel the performer, bat-flipping like a madman. He will bat flip a walk. Some people love it, some people hate it, and in the interest of self-preservation I’ll keep my stance to myself. In any case, there is also Odubel the fantasy asset, whom we are here to discuss. Herrera as a fantasy player is quite the opposite of his on the field persona. He is — dare I say — bland. Sure, there was his breakout 2016 where he went 15/25/.286, but last year his skills seemed to take a step back. He went 14/8/.281, accruing nearly 100 fewer plate appearances than in ’16 due to injury. His walk rate was nearly cut in half, from 9.6% to 5.5%, while his K% rose 2% to 22.4%.
However, even with waning interest in Herrera this draft season, there was reason for optimism. Over the second half of 2017 he was a pretty solid contributor, doing his best to mask an awful .685 first half OPS. He managed a .928 OPS over the second half while improving his plate discipline, upping his BB/K from 0.19 to 0.36. Not exactly Joey Votto, but back to where you feel comfortable. Unfortunately, his hard contact actually fell from 31% to 26%, and he still hit just eight bombs with three steals. Not a ton of category juice there.
This year it appears Odubel is prepared to O-double down (yes, I can hear you groaning from here) on his 2017 second half. Speaking of which, do you remember that KFC Double Down sandwich? Man, that was grotesque. Anyhow, over the last two weeks Herrera has hit .360/.459/.640 with a 9:7 K:BB (1.3 BB/K) along with 4 home runs and a steal. He’s been one of the best hitters in all of fantasy, and he’s up to 92% owned in Fantrax leagues. So are we looking at a hot streak or a verifiable change in approach?
A look into his plate discipline on the year paints a promising picture. His reach rate on pitches outside of the zone is the lowest it’s ever been at 32%, coinciding with the highest contact rate (80%) and lowest swinging strike rate (9.2) as well.
Better plate discipline typically leads to better results, and you can see that is largely the case with Herrera over the past year-plus. However, a true breakout does not appear to be in the works. First, he isn’t a real burner. He’s just two-for-four in stolen base attempts this year and 10-for-17 (59%) since the start of 2017. You’re not really looking at a 25 steal guy anymore. If he gets on base enough he’ll get you double-digits, but anything beyond that should be considered gravy. Oh, but I do love gravy. Mmm.
Also hampering the notion of a breakout is his batted ball data, which remains largely unchanged. Even over these hot 14 games he has a 27.3% hard contact rate, well below average. He has relied upon a 28.6% HR/FB% to hit his four dingers. That is the very definition of unsustainable. He has started to pull the ball more (45.5%) but it’s too soon to surmise that to be a full change in approach. Herrera will give you a little bit of everything, including batting average, which is hard to come by these days. He deserves to be rostered in all formats, but don’t expect him to breach OF3 territory.
Ice – Paul Goldschmidt
We know him, we love him, we draft him in the first round. Paul Goldschmidt has been a rock solid first-round pick for years, but this season he slipped in some drafts due to the dreaded humidor. The fear was palpable as everyone braced for it. Mothers sheltered their children. The elderly called their grandkids to bar their doors. Their grandkids returned home and played Fortnite, forgetting anything was amiss. Prognosticators predicted a precipitous drop in exit velocity with the implementation of the new system, which seems to be coming to fruition looking at some early season numbers.
A.J. Pollock has certainly had no issues with the humidor, but Paul Goldschmidt is another story. Over a month into the season and he’s hitting just .227 with four homers. Over his last 13 games he’s hitting .170 with no home runs and just one RBI. What’s going on? Small sample size? Humidor horror? The beginning of the end?!
A look at his home hard contact rates do hint that perhaps the humidor is putting a dent in his production. In 2017 his home hard contact rate was 47% (42% on the road). This year that number is just 29% at home… and 40% on the road. It’s hard for me personally to believe his power could me mitigated so starkly, but you have to think the humidor is at least a little bit to blame here.
That’s not all, though. His contact skills have taken a downturn. His K% is up nearly 8% from 2017, a shade under 30%. That is easily his highest mark since his debut in 2011. His plate discipline stats back up the increase in strikeouts; his contact rate is down 3% (7% from 2016) to 72%, and his in-zone contact rate is troubling as well, down 5% from a year ago and nearly 10% from 2016. His patience and discipline are still intact, but his contact ability is leaving him quickly. Obviously it’s hard to hit for average if you aren’t making much contact, and it’s even harder if your hard% is below average. Sluggers who consistently post 70%-ish contact rates also crush the ball when they make contact to keep their BABIP afloat. Goldy’s home BABIP with the 29% hard% is just .257, but he may not deserve much better.
This is not to say that Goldy can’t bounce back to a certain extent. While you may not get the elite Goldy of years past, he can still hit 25 bombs the rest of the way with a .270-.280 average. He’s still terrific in OBP formats. He’ll still snag you double-digit bases. Don’t sell at all costs, but I’m not sure the contact ability is coming back. If you could still get first-round value for Goldy in a trade that can help you out, go for it.