The December trade which saw the Red Sox and Rockies swap Franklin Morales and Jonathan Herrera was more than just the acquisition of a much-needed utility man. That trade was symbolic of the new Red Sox philosophy in player acquisition, as the Red Sox traded an inconsistent but talented pitcher in Morales in exchange for a solid, dependable player in Herrera. Herrera has been largely forgotten since the Red Sox grabbed him, but he remains the best candidate for the utility infielder job and is likely to be a great player in that role.
Sabermetric stats are not a fan of Herrera’s production. Even in the best offensive season of the 29-year old’s career last season, which saw him slash .292/.336/.364, he only posted a 77 wRC+ and 83 OPS+, 23% and 17% below average respectively. That looks fairly damning to the chances of Herrera seeing significant time in 2014, but let’s iron out a few kinks before making that judgement.
Advanced statistics like wRC+ and OPS+, while normally being overall great offensive statistics to measure park-adjusted performance, fail in the case of Herrera. Herrera never has had much of any power, with just eight career home runs over parts of five seasons, and thus is needlessly penalized by park-adjusted systems since he has played in Coors Field the last few seasons. Since Coors Field is such a great hitters’ park, Herrera’s park-adjusted stats make him seem like a worse player than he really is despite the fact that Herrera’s game does not involve him taking advantage of Coors Field.
On a purely statistical and non park-adjusted standpoint, Herrera’s .701 OPS in 2013 doesn’t look so bad compared to the rest of the league. That OPS alone is 4% better than the average shortstop, 1% better than the average second baseman, and surprisingly only 2% worse than the average third baseman. Putting all that together suggests that Herrera is a well-above average hitter when it comes to utility men, and not nearly as great a drop-off as some advanced stats suggest.
Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that park-adjusted stats are useless. Nine times out of ten, they are helpful tools which help to eliminate outlying factors such as ballpark dimensions, but in the case of Herrera they really do not come into play and make him seem like a much worse player than he really is. When it all comes together, Herrera could be a much more solid acquisition than he appeared on the surface and should surprise many people in 2014.