Mar 3, 2014; Bradenton, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox second baseman Jonathan Herrera (10) works out prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Herrera is better than he seems

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.

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  • Patrick Green

    Good article, Conor — even though I disagree. I am not a fan of referencing one year of a player’s career when evaluating a player’s talent. I like to look at the bigger scope, the whole career. It is obvious that player’s have up and down years and a lot of the time that can be seen and credited to BABIP. Herrera owns a career .658 OPS, 69 OPS+, 67 WRC+, and 0.2 WAR in 375 PA. His BABIP was a little high at .326, so he was the recipient of some luck. He is not a potent base stealer either and the only plus is his glove, which I would deem acceptable if we had a consistent third basemen.

    • Conor Duffy

      The .658 OPS is not good, but the point of my article was not to trust the OPS+ and wRC+ stats because they don’t apply to players like Herrera who don’t rely on power. He won’t be a good hitter, but he should be a solid option as utility man and certainly better than guys like Ciriaco and Aviles that we’ve had in the past.

      • John Finn Jr

        Exactly !

      • Patrick Green

        I guess my main question for you then would be how confident you are with Will Middlebrooks as the Red Sox everyday third basemen. If you are then this makes sense, because the possibility that Herrera winds up being the everyday third basemen becomes slim, but if not, I think we need a better safety net then Herrera from an offensive perspective. Just average offense would suffice, but he is not close to an average offensive player. My main gripe is not with Herrera as a utility man, but with my doubts for Will Middlebrooks.

        • Conor Duffy

          I’m not extremely bullish on Middlebrooks, but I do believe that he will rebound and have a better season than he had in 2013. He may not live up to the hype he generated two years ago, but I think that he does have the potential to be a solid third baseman if he can cut down on his strikeouts. Also, if all goes according to plan then Herrera won’t be the only safety net. If Garin Cecchini has a good year in Triple-A, then he could conceivably be called up as early as June or July.

  • John Finn Jr

    Good article. At last somebody agrees with me. I have tried to tell people this, but they do not want to believe it. This is probably due to the fact that he was a utility player on a 2nd class national league team. It is also due to the fact that most writers want to milk some stories until they run dry; stories like extending contracts or having a relationship with a female sports announcer.

    • Conor Duffy

      Thanks! He won’t be a star, but he should be great within his role on the team.

  • Willy

    Couldn’t agree more and you are correct about the stat’s…