A pop-up and a caught stealing count for the same number of outs, but thanks to the magical way the mind processes reality and forms memories, we tend to remember a guy making an out on the basepaths more than we do a guy making an out at the plate.
Take, for instance, Cesar Hernandez. Mention his name, and the first image that flashes through a lot of minds is a groan-inducing pick-off or throw-out … since the start of last season, Hernandez has made 20 outs on the basepaths, many of them quite avoidable.
Yet consider this:
Even if you were to take all 20 of those outs that Hernandez made after reaching base and instead pretend that he never reached base to begin with, i.e., that he made an out at the plate instead, he would still have an on-base percentage 30 points higher than any Phillie other than Odubel Herrera. Point being, his baserunning blunders have not come close to canceling out his base-reaching prowess, and the Phillies have been better served by Hernandez’s combination of rates than any other player other than Herrera.
After all, you can make a baserunning out only if you are on base to begin with. While Hernandez’s outs on base put a serious dent in his effective OBP, lowering it from .373 to .341, no other Phillie (besides Herrera) has an OBP higher than .310 since the start of last season.
At the risk of ruining the fun of your Scott Kingery advent calendar, it might be time to take a fresh look at your perception of the Phillies’ future at second base. Hernandez, long assumed to be little more than a placeholder between eras, has been the Phillies’ best hitter for nearly a full calendar year now.
After a breakout 2016 in which he hit .294 with a .371 on-base percentage and .393 slugging percentage, the 27-year-old switch-hitter is off to a sizzling start to 2017, hitting .345 with a .973 OPS in 13 games. Included in those numbers is an intriguing new dimension to his game: line-drive power. In 62 plate appearances, Hernandez has seven extra-base hits, three of them home runs, of which he entered the season with a career total of eight (in 1,330 PAs).
Hernandez’s .586 slugging percentage ranks sixth among middle infielders with at least 40 plate appearances, trailing Zack Cozart, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Daniel Murphy, and Elvis Andrus.
Since June 23 of last season, he is hitting .330 with a .410 OBP and a .457 slugging percentage. To put that in perspective, since 2002, only four middle infielders have posted a .410 OBP and a .457 slugging percentage over an entire season: Derek Jeter in 2006, Chase Utley in 2007, Hanley Ramirez in 2009, and the Rockies’ D.J. LeMahieu last year (and it’s worth noting that LeMahieu played his home games in Coors Field; away from there, his line was a far less gaudy .303/.353/.395).
Hernandez is a long way off from joining that group. Still, those numbers offer a pretty flattering view of the production he’s turned in over his last three-quarters of a season's worth of plate appearances. He has reached base in all but one game this season, and in each of the last 11. Dating to late July, he’s been on base in 72 of the 75 games he has started.
At a position where, until last year, a big-league team was fortunate just to have a near-league-average bat, Hernandez has given the Phillies much more than that for nearly a full season’s worth of games.
The Phillies have spent much of the last two years hoping that they drafted their second baseman of the future in the second round in 2015. Coming out of the University of Arizona, Kingery was projected as a potential fast-riser with a mature approach at the plate and solid fielding ability. He put up a solid .293/.360/.411 line in 420 plate appearances at Clearwater last season but struggled in 37 games at double-A. He’s off to a fast start this season, with a .388 OBP and four home runs and three hits in 50 plate appearances at Reading, but Hernandez has similar numbers against big-league pitching.
The Phillies have little incentive to rush Kingery: He will turn 23 next week and isn’t even on the 40-man roster yet. Hernandez, who is making $2.55 million as a Super Two arbitration player this year, won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season. One way or another, the situation will sort itself out. For a team whose organizational depth chart still has a variety of areas where it could use reinforcements.
Despite the quantity the Phillies have on the pitching side of things, they don’t have much in the way of elite starting-pitching prospects (not, at least, compared to the long line of Mets starters we’ve seen over the last five years). The emergence of someone such as Hernandez as a viable piece of a playoff-caliber lineup could free management up to get creative on the trade market by including someone such as Kingery in a package for just such a pitcher. Provided, of course, Kingery ends up progressing the way Hernandez has.
I’m not going to say Hernandez has proven anything. But he’s certainly altered the conversation.