You may have noticed that the boldest move, in my estimation, within The 2016 Midseason Plan included a trade of catcher Welington Castillo. Beef has been pretty awesome since coming to the desert as he leads all catcher in ISO since that time. He’s a key cog in the offense, especially if you love his power production. But if you look elsewhere, there are some detractors: his pitch framing is horrendous, he doesn’t walk much (which is okay to a degree, depending on your preferences), and he can pile up the K’s. We don’t have any data on pitch sequencing, but let’s just say it’s been called into question a time or two. Essentially, the power’s nice, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle and the Diamondbacks might do well to sell high on Castillo with is abnormally BABIP power the best batting average of his career.
That would leave Chris Herrmann behind the dish for the majority of the club’s games to finish out 2016, and create a little more room for Tuffy Gosewisch who’s just, well, the perfect backup to a backup on a non-contender. Gosewisch isn’t important here, but Herrmann is. If Castillo were out of the way, Herrmann could play himself into a starting role in 2017 with continued performance. I’ll be frank — I never expected him to hit half as well as he has this season and I don’t know that he expected it either. But what’s happened has happened and he’s been quite good. While Herrmann is essentially just as bad behind the plate as Castillo and I’d love to see a better framer behind the dish, Herrmann could make a legitimate case that he deserves to be considered as the team’s primary catcher in 2017. But is his performance something we should be banking on?
Entering this season, Chris Herrmann had been laughably terrible at the plate. He had simply never produced at half the rate that Nick Ahmed does on a nightly basis while splitting his time at several positions in a utility role. Acquiring that kind of player for anything seems like a bad move, not to mention that Daniel Palka (recently promoted to AAA) at least had a chance to be some kind of big league contributor down the road (even if not the every day kind) while Herrmann essentially looked like after four seasons he didn’t belong in the big leagues at all. So why make that move? Dave Stewart would go on to say that they wanted a left-handed option off the bench and behind the plate occasionally that could also provide some outfield and infield depth. What he didn’t say was that he was previously Herrmann’s agent and that they had identified a potential way of fixing him at the plate. Observe this homer from last season and pay attention to his stance, the position of his hands and his leg kick:
All of that looks pretty punchless. Herrmann had hit six home runs over his first 142 career games. He’s hit that many this year already, and it’s not all due to playing at Chase Field (though that helps). Again, notice the stance, hands and leg kick:
Those two mechanical approaches are wildly different. Herrmann now stands open to better see the ball, begins with his hands lower, steps into the bucket while taking back and raising his hands, then explodes through the ball. All of this movement sounds tricky because it involves a certain rhythm that isn’t necessarily easy to just pick up. He did start the year 0-20 (or something like that) for a reason. Since then, well, he’s been kind of a mofo.
To date, Herrmann is sporting the kind of power, walks and strikeout combo that’s worked well for many in the past. His hard-hit rate has jumped nearly 18% from his previous career average. He’s putting the ball in play about as often as before, he’s just doing it with a lot more authority. That kind of thing has a way of raising one’s BABIP, as we’ve explored before with guys like Jake Lamb and Paul Goldschmidt. Herrmann’s BABIP is at a preposterously high .372 right now, 169-points higher than it was a year ago with the Twins in a similarly sized sample. That wreaks of good fortune, but with the mechanical changes and the change in batted ball profile, we would also expect an improvement here. How much of one is yet to be determined.
As much as I dislike the taste of crow, I might have to eat some. The D-backs have changed Chris Herrmann and it would appear to be for the better. He’s not a good receiver and I don’t really expect that to change much. As we laid out in The 2016 Midseason Plan, framing benefits could be huge for Arizona. But he’s turned things around in a major way in the batter’s box, enough that he warrants consideration as a long term asset on the cheap, even if it’s just in a super-utility role. He could also become a sell-high candidate if Arizona wanted to move him for a better return than they gave up. That would sure be nice to see once in a while.
It would appear that Chris Herrmann’s new success at the plate is tangible and real, even if not this real. The bar being what it is for major league catchers, he can probably come down a little and still clear it. The D-backs deserve some credit for assisting in the turnaround, now they have to figure out what to do with it.
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Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).