Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Who is Jeremy Hermida?

In 2007, Jeremy Hermida put up a .296/.369/.501 slash line at the tender age of 23. In 484 plate appearances, he posted a .372 wOBA which was good for 2.7 wins above replacement. This season seemed like it was the beginning of a bright future projected by the likes Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus during Hermida's minor league career. However, a look at his BABIP compared to a crude projection using his LD% showed a value that might have suggested a bit of luck.

Sure enough, regression set in a big way the following year, to the tune of a .249/.323/.406 line and a .321 wOBA. His K% stayed as high as ever while his walk rate dropped another 1%. As Dave Golebiewski of FanGraphs noted in November of 2008, his swinging had gotten a lot less disciplined as well.

All in all, it had appeared Hermida had regressed as far as possible from his initially grand projections. So who really is the true Jeremy Hermida?

His minor league numbers were good, but not great, with a career slash line of .284/.398/.436. A minor league career ISO of .152 is nothing to be proud of, even if you were finishing your minor league run at age 21. So far, Hermida has shown no sign of increasing his power, culminating in this season's so-far horrific .126. That's not a power number you expect or want to see in a corner outfielder, especially one with the glove that Hermida carries (a career UZR of -23.8 in 3000 innings in right field).

Still, the minor league performance should have projected some sort of patience, capability to take walks. But before this season he had not hit above 10% BB% in any of his three seasons. Combine that with increasing K% and you get a player who makes far too many outs, struggles to make contact, and already was known as someone who hadn't developed major league power. Yet his LD% have remained fairly constant through his first three seasons at 20%. His dip last year to 17.7% could have made for some of the batting average fall, but the lack of power was troubling for a player who wasn't really missing out in the luck department all that much.

The post by Golebiewski detailed Hermida's increasing lack of strike zone recognition, so I won't go into here, as it's not original research. But as an update, what have we seen so far this year? In 240 plate appearances, Hermida has racked up a .261/.363/.386 line with numbers good for a .338 wOBA. That's close to league average, carried by the first major observation to be had in that slash line: Hermida has been drawing many a walk early in the year. After drawing only 48 walks all of last year (559 PA), he's drawn 32 in less than half the plate appearances. This has amounted to a drastically improved BB%, up to 13.4%. The strikeouts are still high, at 24.6%, but you can't argue with the walk rate and subsequent .102 Isolated Patience.

But what of his plate discipline numbers? As mentioned by Golebiewski, it had seemed Hermida was swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone and less of them inside the strike zone. A look at the numbers this year shows some slight differences. He's swung at "only" 24.2% of pitches outside the strike zone, while his swing rate inside the strike zone has remained at around 60%. His overall contact rate is up 1.5%, and in particular his outside zone contact rate is up 2%. Combine this with him seeing 4% less pitches in the strike zone, and you can see how a decrease in pitches in the zone and a slight but significant decrease in pitches swung at outside the zone has drastically improved his walk rate.

His power numbers are way down, but he seems to be hitting it as hard as ever, as evidenced by a more career-typical 21.8% LD%. However, he has a HR/FB ratio of 10.6%, a number perhaps partially attributed to the fact that he isn't seeing many pitches to hit; only 45.2% of pitches to Hermida have been in the strike zone. So perhaps some of his power problem isn't his fault directly, but could be assisted if he stopped swinging at so many bad pitches.

In any case, I don't expect either trend of significantly higher OBP and significantly lower SLG to continue, and neither do the various projection systems. zIPS has Hermida with a finishing line of .266/.357/.426, good for a .349 wOBA. This would certainly be an improvement over his previous year, but would be more in line with numbers of a guy who just doesn't do enough of either avoiding outs and making more use of his outs (ie. on-base or slugging capabilities) to warrant a lot of playing time. When you figure in his defensive liabilities, it points to a player who shouldn't be taking up the sort of playing time the Marlins are expecting of him right now. He is just 25 years old, so he may one day be able to match the grandiose aspirations of his minor league years. The Marlins are likely to see another season of him if he isn't traded, after which the Fish are looking to hand a corner outfield spot to the power-packed youngster Mike Stanton. But the Fish will be shopping Hermida and his bounty of talent and are willing to allow someone else to figure him out, provided the right return.

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