Friday, March 17, 2017

The Focal Point: The 2017 Player Preview of Cesar Hernandez

Cesar Hernandez can impress and confound you in a manner of minutes.
The 28-year-old can put a brutal 0-2 pitch in play, race up the first base line and earn an infield hit. Then, on the first pitch to the next batter, he'll get picked off first base.
Heading into his age 27 season, with nearly 400 games under his belt, one would think Hernandez would have a better grasp of the game. But the kid who led the league in triples last year, got nabbed on the basepaths 13 times against 17 stolen bases.
This is the ninth in a series of posts previewing the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies. The previous post looked at Tommy Joseph. This one looks at Cesar Hernadez and wonders how good he could be if he could maintain his focus.


Focus is the issue, right? It can't be anything else, can it? Hernandez has a ton of ability. He's got speed for the basepaths and the field. He's got gap power. He's got soft hands.

But he makes mistakes that leave you shaking your head almost every game. Sometimes he tries to take an ill-advised extra base. Sometimes he doesn't seem to be in the right position. Either way, he doesn't get the most out of his capabilities.

Let's dream about what would happen if he did.

Getting on-base

Hernandez clearly has skills in this area. He led the team in on-base percentage last year. He gets on base via walks (66 in 2016) and hits (a .285 batting average the past two seasons.)
From June 23 2016 on, he seemed to really put it together. In 87 games, he walked 51 times and hit .327/.421/.433 mark.
It was during that stretch that the Phillies really stressed him putting the ball on the ground more.
It's unreasonable to expect him to put up those numbers over an entire season. Those are Hall of Fame numbers. But, if he focused on putting the ball in play and using his tools better, it's not hard to imagine him ending 2017 with a .300/.385/.415.

Scoring runs

It's kind of astounding that Cesar Hernandez only scored 67 runs last year. Dude reached base 229 times.
Yes, he was on a bad offense, but consider this: Ender Enciarte played for the second worst offense in baseball. His on-base percentage was 20 points lower than Hernandez' was. He reached base more than 20 fewer times. And he scored 20 more runs.
Let's be honest. If Hernandez gets on base at a similar or better clip, the batters behind him will hit likely hit better than they did in 2016. And that should drive up his runs a bit.
But Hernandez can't make outs on the basepaths.

Stealing bases

With Hernandez' exciting speed, he should be compiling much better stolen base numbers. Even if he is getting caught at a bad rate, he should still be stealing 25 or more bases. If he can improve his focus, however, it's not hard to imagine him putting up more interesting numbers. Say 33 stolen bases against 12-15 caught stealing.

Defense

Hernandez glove doesn't grade out terribly according to the metrics. But it could be a lot better. The coaching staff and he can clearly work on improving his positioning. With that and added focus, things could improve.

The possible final result

Look, I'm not saying Hernandez could be an MVP. But if he were to improve his focus and continue a slight development in his other statistics, he could end 2017 with a .300/.385/.415 line with 28/12 stolen base numbers and 10 triples, combined with a 1 or better dWAR.
Tell me you wouldn't take that.

The real result

This was a fun exercise in The Possible. But Hernandez has proven he's not going to do that. In reality, though, it's not hard to imagine him hitting .290/.375/.375 with 20 homers and 15 caught stealing and a bit of improved defense. That's not fantastic, but on a rebuilding team, it's not awful.
If he ends up with another 3-plus WAR season, fans should be fairly content. It means he'd have kept the seat warm for one of the Phillies more heralded prospects.

The most fascinating thing with Hernandez this year will be what happens when J.P. Crawford gets the eventual call. Will Hernandez have played well enough to have secured a spot in the lineup and make

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