Editor’s Note: I hope you will join me in welcoming Jordan Barhorst to the Redleg Nation family. Jordan has been writing for the Reds in various places for a while, and I’m really happy that he’s joining us at RN. Please make him feel welcome! — Chad Dotson
In March 2016, just over a year ago, Chris Mitchell at Fangraphs wrote a fantastic article called Free Dilson Herrera which contained a very well-written and -researched deep dive into Herrera’s successful minor league career, and served as a call to arms for the Mets organization to start utilizing the young second baseman in their major league plans.
A lot has changed for Herrera since the day that article was published, including being traded from a crowded middle infield situation in New York to another crowded middle infield situation in Cincinnati and suffering through some nagging shoulder soreness, all the while continuing to climb up the Reds’ second base depth chart. In that time he’s crushed AAA pitching (for a second full season), and saw the largest hurdle in his path to the everyday second base job, Brandon Phillips, get traded to the Braves.
Herrera was only a seemingly inevitable trade of Zack Cozart away from seeing fellow super-young Red Jose Peraza slide over to shortstop, and taking over the keystone position for himself. And then the shoulder started to act up again, forcing Herrera to start the 2017 Spring Training schedule as the team’s Designated Hitter, where he’s continued to mash.
There’s a lot riding on the shoulder of young Dilson Herrera. Being the return piece in a trade for one of your new franchise’s cornerstone players is not without its immense pressure, especially with a tailor-made opening in the everyday lineup ready and available. Seeing Herrera do nothing but hit is why some Reds fans are a little frustrated at his injury woes. I think Doug Gray sums up what we’re all thinking in his latest article about Herrera’s injury, in that something seems a little fishy with this situation.
So why Dilson Herrera? Why do we care so much about a guy who’s never put on a Reds uniform in a meaningful game? Why not just chalk him up as damaged goods, move on to a logical next-up phenom (Shed Long is already making anyone paying attention salivate)? Why are we so disappointed that a guy with a lifetime .211/.311/.367 major league slashline is missing some time in the field in Spring Training?
Well, for starters, he’s only (freshly) 23 years old, and already has 103 plate appearances in the major leagues. Professional ball clubs, especially those with as much talent as the New York Mets, don’t just call up 21 year old hitters out of the blue. If that was the case, there’s a good chance Nick Senzel would have been on the Reds’ big league roster last season. Dilson Herrera forced his way into the conversation for the Mets, which isn’t something many players that young can say they’ve done.
Which brings me to my next point – the dude crushes AAA pitching. Before eventually being called up to the Mets in 2015, all Herrera did was bat .327/.382/.511 for AAA Las Vegas. In case you’re wondering, that’s good. He started the year with Las Vegas again in 2016, and after a “disappointing” 108 wRC+ in the first half (check out this link for a refresher on wRC+), Herrera hit a surge after being moved to Cincy, raising his wRC+ to 130. Again, in case you’re wondering, that’s pretty dang good.
Now of course, there’s a large gap in difficulty level from AAA to the major leagues. Just ask Cody Reed, who spent most of the year making AAA hitters look like Charlie Brown trying to kick a Lucy-held football (man, I love any excuse to look at Cody Reed GIFs), but then got beat up in the majors to the tune of 7.36 ERA/6.06 FIP. Herrera, too, struggled during his short time in the majors with the Mets. And if you’re looking for Herrera to put up a 130 wRC+ in Cincinnati, you’ll likely be disappointed.
There’s a learning curve involved with making that large leap to the majors. And even though Spring Training is hardly a reliable barometer for regular season success, so far Herrera has looked as though he’s figured things out. By all accounts he’s been killing the ball in his DH appearances, and as Mark Sheldon reported last week, he’s resumed throwing activities.
So, when Herrera finally gets healthy and dons the red and white, what’s his upside? Despite making his MLB debut at a very young age, scouts don’t necessarily love the guy. He’s got middle of the road grades in just about every area of his game. He’s got pop, but not game-changing power. He isn’t a burner on the basepaths, and he won’t shut you down defensively. Despite all of the scouting reports that aren’t in his favor, there’s no denying the production.
So, what do the projections think of Dilson Herrera? Unlike the scouts, Fangraph’s Depth Charts projections (a combination of the more familiar ZiPS and Steamer projections, which also takes the team depth chart into consideration) project Herrera to play around half a season with the big league club, and be about league average with the bat. Specifically, the projections think the young second baseman will hit .256/.311/.422, which is good for .8 WAR, and 93 wRC+ (just under league average, which is 100 wRC+), all through 280 plate appearances. You’ll take that kind of production at second base just about every day of the week.
ZiPS is particularly high on Herrera, projecting a similar slashline of .255/.311/.435, but sustained over 495 PA (!) and including 18 home runs (!!). That kind of power out of the second base position would likely get Herrera a few Rookie of the Year votes, and certainly would cement Herrera as the official second baseman of The Next Good Reds Team (TM). The ZiPS projections should be of interest to Reds fans, as they were the only projections to accurately predict Adam Duvall’s production in his All-Star season last year.
Projections are basically a statistician’s “eye test” – there’s nothing there that can be labeled as fact, but it’s taking everything you’re seeing (in this case, any data you can find) and making a prediction about the future. A ton of variables go into a player’s actual end of year statistics, but the projections are a good baseline for what we can reasonably expect out of a player. When thinking about Dilson Herrera within the context of his projections and past success in the minor leagues, it’s easy to see why Reds fans are a little frustrated at this recent setback with his shoulder. There’s a lot to like there, and hopefully a lot to look forward to. But it’s clear, for all of this excitement for Herrera’s future eventually to turn into enjoyment of his play at Great American Ballpark, he’ll need to get the shoulder problem figured out and put safely behind him.