Odubel Herrera is about to return to the Phillies lineup after a three-week absence caused by a hamstring injury. If you don't think that's good news for the Phillies, then you have obviously been fixated on those moments when the centerfielder drives you insane a lot more than the ones when he is playing like one of the best Rule 5 selections in major-league history.
"I definitely belong to the camp that views him as a tremendous talent and an excellent player," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said.
Klentak and the Phillies made their feelings known after last season by signing the 25-year-old Venezuelan to a five-year deal worth $30.5 million, and the general manager has zero regrets about that decision now.
Oh, sure, Herrera ran through a Juan Samuel stop sign at third base earlier this season that made you wonder if he also hits the gas at a red light with a traffic cop standing in the middle of an intersection. And, sure, Herrera recently aggressively ran into a double play when he tagged from second base and went to third even though Freddy Galvis did not tag from third and head home. Yes, we know, he also fails to run sometimes, has a funky hairstyle, does not speak perfect English, and is a serial bat-flipper.
All those things make David Odubel Herrera a lightning rod on a team that sorely lacked electricity before Rhys Hoskins' recent addition.
"Odubel is anything but boring," Klentak said. "I think there are certain days when his electric style of play will help lead us to victory because he'll have multiple extra-base hits and make running plays in the gap that few other centerfielders can get to. I also understand that Odubel's all-out aggressive style of play can sometimes lead to mistakes as well. Because of Odubel's personality and style of play, things are sometimes magnified with him. I understand why he is sometimes viewed the way he is."
Klentak, however, also clearly sees the other side of Herrera. He sees a future in which Herrera has better players around him and is an integral part of a team on the rise and his occasional blunders receive much less focus.
"One of the things you have to do when you're building a roster is understand the total value a player brings to the franchise and the significance of that," Klentak said. "I think if you look at what Odubel has accomplished over his first three years in the big leagues versus other great players in franchise history, you'll see that Odubel ranks right near the top."
Sure, statistics can be manipulated to make a point, but when you're near the top of a modern-day baseball formula designed to access your worth it is impossible to view that as anything other than good. Through the lens of WAR – wins above replacement – Herrera is viewed as a special player.
He led the Phillies in that statistic each of his first two seasons and is second only to Aaron Nola through the first five months of this season. The Phillies publish a statistic in their daily notes that shows that only two players over the last 50 years have a higher WAR than Herrera's 10.8.
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, the only Phillies player to ever amass a WAR of more than 100, checked in at 11.7 after his first three seasons. Herrera had a chance to surpass that number before his hamstring injury. He probably still will surpass Scott Rolen, who had a 10.9 WAR after his first three seasons.
Only four centerfielders – Mike Trout, Charlie Blackmon, Christian Yelich, and Ender Inciarte – have a higher WAR than Herrera since he joined the Phillies in 2015.
"What separates Odubel from a lot of players is that he impacts the game on both sides of the ball," Klentak said. "His defense grades out among the better centerfielders in the game and he's an offensive force. And he's only 25 years old, so you have to figure there is still room for growth."
It is remarkable that Herrera grades out so well defensively when you consider that he had played two games in center field during his six seasons in the minor leagues with the Texas Rangers. Samuel, who is the Phillies' outfield instructor, and bench coach Larry Bowa have always gushed about how hard Herrera works, and his outfield play is a reflection of that.
The other valuable trait that seems to serve Herrera well is his ability to ignore criticism. He may hear the boos after one of his blunders, but they do not consume him.
"Odubel has experienced plenty of ups and downs his first three years," Klentak said. "There have been the highs of being a hero in a game and signing a contract extension and the lows of running through stop signs and certain other things. Really through it all he has been the same guy. You see him in the clubhouse with that Hollywood smile, keeping things loose. He seems to handle the good and the bad pretty well. Look no further than his stat sheet and you'll see it has been pretty consistent. That's a testament to his ability to put each game in the rear view and focus on the next game."