2017 Reds / 2017 Spring Training

Why Dilson Herrera?

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.

30 thoughts on “Why Dilson Herrera?

  1. I’m still high on Herrera,despite the nagging shoulder stuff. It’s a little weird that all the projection systems are predicting Herrera will produce more WAR than Jay Bruce, with about 200 less projected ABs. I’m not sure if that is good or bad thing. I hope Jay does well in NY.

    It sure would be nice to have the DH in the NL so guys like Herrera could continue to develop on the MLB roster. We’d also all feel better having Mesoraco’s bat in the lineup as much as possible, without worrying that his hip is being overworked . Guess we can take solace in having the opportunity to watch all that strategy that surround watching clueless pitchers trying to hit.

    • Actually, where I find the strategy comes in the most is where a team is behind a run or two (say 2-1 or 2-0) and it’s the 5th/6th inning and your pitcher spot is due up with a man on and not a clear bunting situation. It’s a non-issue with the DH that your starter is going to stay in the game and give you as many innings as he can before he becomes ineffective or reaches a pitch limit. Without the DH, you have a decision to make. Do you pinch hit hoping for a chance to put a run or two on the board, and go to the bullpen? Maybe your bullpen is a little taxed and you may want to try to get 2 more IP out of him and pinch hit for him his next time up? The strategy when he’s actually at the plate is pretty inconsequential in the big picture. I do however agree that in general, watching a pitcher hit is generally pretty dull.

  2. Welcome to RLN Jordan.
    Why Dilson Herrea? Indeed. I run hot and cold on Herrera too. One week I think he’ll be a fixture at 2B for several years, and the next week I think he would make a terrific trade piece in a package. But that recurring shoulder problem puts any trade possibilities to rest.
    Is Peraza really a SS, or is he better at 2B? Will Suarez’s bat and impending position change when Senzel arrives be a factor at 2B?
    If Herrera will have to have surgery on his shoulder, the Reds should make that decision before much more time passes. He should be on the AAA roster when that decision is made. If he is on the major league roster and they then decide to have the surgery, while he is mending on the DL, he will be accruing ML service time. And most shoulder surgeries have lengthy recovery times. In other words, the Reds shouldn’t play around and drag this out and hope his shoulder gets better. Don’t waste what may be several months before a decision is made and then waste even more months of ML service time while Herrera would be on the ML DL list.

  3. Welcome aboard, Jordan! Nice inaugural piece!

    I admit to having an unhealthy obsession with young middle-infielders. I love Herrera AND Peraza for some reason. I’m hoping we get a chance to see what they can do in a lineup and on the field.

    • Thanks Patrick! Looking forward to writing my next piece already!

      I think what makes Herrera and Peraza such a tantalizing combo is that they’re two different style of players. Peraza, it seems, has the better glove and is unquestionably faster on the base paths, while Herrera has more pop in his bat and, from what I’ve heard, is more of a leader-type.

      A modern baseball manager probably doesn’t see these guys as ‘My Shortstop’ and ‘My Second Baseman’, but two middle infielders who can both play, and are used situationally depending on the pitcher, the ballpark, hot streaks, game leverage, etc. Combine them with someone like Alfredo Rodriguez, who by all accounts is glove-only, and you can really start micro-tweaking the lineup for any given situation in any given game, a la the 2016 Chicago Cubs.

      • Good points. “Fungibility” is becoming the word of the day! If it even is a real word… hmm….

  4. A fun, or not so fun, fact about Dilson Herrera. On August 27, 2013 the Pirates traded Herrera to the NY Mets for OF Marlon Byrd, and C John Buck. Herrera, even though he was at A level was blocked in Pittsburgh by Neil Walker. Who’d of thunk that Marlon freaking Byrd was a part of the Dilson Herrera story?
    In 2014, when Mets 2B Daniel Murphy is hurt, Herrera becomes the first Met player in their history to begin the season at A and advance to the Major Leagues by the end of the same season. And he was only 21.
    In December 2015 the Pirates traded Neil Walker to the Mets for P Jon Neise. Walker now again blocks Herrera.
    This allows the Mets to trade Herrera to the Reds on Aug. 1, 2016 for Jay Bruce. For Dilson Herrera fans, raise a toast for Marlon Byrd and Neil Walker.

    • So, by your logic, it sounds like at some point this year the Reds will trade for Neil Walker! Not sure I’d approve of that move…

        • Really, really like Neil Walker but he is already iffy defensively. Imagine what happens when the decline starts? I think he’s a guy who will finish his MLB career at 1B. He’ll likely be an average hitter for the position for a brief while before becoming becoming a liability with the bat for a 1B.

  5. Great stuff, Jordan. I just don’t know what to make of Herrera. The shoulder thing concerns me, and I’m not sure he’ll be very good defensively (though he could certainly be adequate).

    But the kid is going to hit at the major league level, if he gets the chance. I firmly believe that.

    • I’ve got rose colored glasses on for sure. I honestly don’t know what to think. For now, I’ll convince myself that he’s fine, because it feels better than the alternative 🙂

  6. While I tend to agree with you, I have to wonder: Why is .255 so good compared to hitting near .300 at this position, as his predecessor did? Whenever the last guy hit under .280, people acted like he was the worst player in the game,but now .255 is fine?

    • Quite honestly, Batting Average is near the bottom of the list when it comes to statistics I care about. Would I prefer someone with a higher batting average? Sure. But you have to keep in mind this guy is so young, a .255 BA is lower than I’m projecting for him going forward.

    • I didn’t take your comment to mean that BP shouldn’t have been traded. Rather, I think you are wondering why he was criticized for ostensibly better performance than Herrera’s. BP was one of my favorite Reds, but I understand that he lacked plate discipline, hit into lots of double plays and didn’t walk much. Herrera is young and shows the potential to improve, which is probably what people are feeling positive about.

      • Greenmtred, are we comparing apples to apples? Compare performance at the same age and Herrea is a better hitter.

        • How about his fielding? And Herrera will need to hit at the MLB level before he gets his Better Hitter Than BP certificate. I’m certainly hoping that he does just that, but he’s largely an unknown quantity at this point, even leaving aside his shoulder.

    • Simple answer is that BP’s offensive production is almost entirely batting average dependent at this point. He doesn’t walk (never really has), and he doesn’t hit for much power these days. Hererra can have better overall offensive production with a lower batting average (only about 25-35 points lower), because he as a lot more power and he walks more.

  7. Why is it, when comparing the new Reds players stats to the previous winning Reds team’s players at the same age, that all you hear about are the kids who are BETTER than their predecessors? Aren’t there any new Reds kids who are doing WORSE than their predecessors at the same age? Who are they? What are the stats like? As far as Dilson goes, it seems like Reds fans are willing to accept average or even slightly below aversge offense from them (if that’s all they were able to achieve) when that exact same type of offense wasn’t acceptable from the previous winning Reds team? Is it bcuz playing winning ball kinda glosses over average offense whereas losing ball doesn’t? Seems like a double standard to me.

    • This is a great question, and one I think about a lot.

      To answer the first question – yes, there are a TON of players that are worse than their predecessors – probably 99% of the Reds system. There are so many of them that it is very hard to talk about them, because you never know which one is going to eventually be better than his predecessor. If you haven’t checked out Doug Gray’s redsminorleagues.com, I would highly suggest you do so. He does the best job of anyone I’ve seen of talking about those guys that might never make it.

      Reds fans are willing to accept average to slightly below average offensive production from Dilson Herrera because, on the current team, its probably way more than they’re getting without him. If he is performing at that level as a 23 year old in 2017, its only fair to assume he’ll be even better as a 25 year old in 2019.

      Furthermore, I don’t think anyone who’s worth listening to ever said Brandon Phillips wasn’t a valuable member of this ballclub. His positive WAR in each season (sometimes exceedingly positive) proves that he was never worse than replacement level, which is obviously what you want in your players. There was a span of a few years that he was underplaying his contract, which on a small market club like the Reds, is an important thing to keep in mind, and was probably the true source of any animosity towards BP.

  8. Looking forward to more of your stuff in the future Jordan. I am very skeptical of Hererra. I have little doubt that he’ll hit and project him to be an above average hitter, especially for a 2B. The shoulder issues are troubling though. The only thing between him and playing in MLB right now is his right shoulder.

    • Thanks for the kind words! I agree about that shoulder. But, he’s young enough that if he took two years off to make sure everything is fully healed, he’d still only be 25. The bigger issue here for the Reds is that his arbitration clock started when he was 20, so they’d probably like to get him up and going sooner rather than later.

      • To my eye test, he’s one of those guys who could fall out of bed hungover, stumble to the plate, and hit a liner to the gap on the first good pitch he saw. He will hit, and be an above average hitter assuming healthy. At least that’s where I see him in 2018-2020.

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