Chris Herrmann's Had an Unexpected Breakout for the Arizona Diamondbacks
Sometimes the offseason moves that barely receive any attention are the ones that end up having the largest impact.
Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart acquired catcher Chris Herrmann for prospect Daniel Palka in a trade with the Minnesota Twins this offseason. It's likely that you missed this transaction altogether, and who can blame you? Herrmann was a career .181/.249/.280 hitter with 6 home runs in 389 plate appearances for the Twins, and Palka had yet to play above High-A ball.
And it's not like Herrmann was brought in to fill a starting need. The Diamondbacks already had Welington Castillo to play catcher.
Herrmann received a few starts this season when Castillo needed a day off, and also served as a pinch hitter off of the bench. His performance at the plate didn't give manager Chip Hale any reason to play him more, since Herrmann had just 1 hit through his first 21 plate appearances. Then, all of a sudden, Herrmann flipped the switch.
On April 23rd, Herrmann received a start behind the plate against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went 2-for-3 that game with a walk and four RBI, three of which came on one swing.
Chris Herrmann put the icing on a big inning and #DbacksWin.https://t.co/QtgE6w0YYG
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) April 24, 2016
Not only was this Herrmann's first home run of the season, but it marked the beginning of his breakout. As bad as his numbers were through his first 21 appearances, they were that good through his next 57.
|4/6 - 4/21||0.050||0.095||0.100||0.093||-59||4.8||33.3||0.050||46.2|
|4/23 - 5/24||0.380||0.429||0.800||0.505||218||8.8||24.6||0.420||52.6|
Herrmann failed to hit a home run or drive in any runs, while only scoring two, in his first 21 plate appearances. Since then, he's hit five taters, driven in 19 runs, and scored 11 times.
Perhaps we should have seen the huge improvement coming, especially considering the percentage of balls he hit hard (Hard%). For reference, a 46.2 Hard% would currently rank fifth best among qualified hitters, so despite Herrmann's struggles at the plate to begin the year, he was still making consistently hard contact.
Some of these struggles can be tied to luck, as his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was just .077 over his first 21 plate appearances. This number jumped to .438 during his hot streak, helping partially explain the sudden turnaround. Another reason could be the amount of ground balls he's hitting, or rather, isn't hitting.
Herrmann's Batted Ball Profile
A noticeable difference in Herrmann as a hitter from his days with the Twins to this season is that his ground ball percentage (GB%) has significantly dropped. His career GB% is 45.4, and so far this season it's fallen to 38.0 percent. The majority of this difference has been in the amount of fly balls he's hit, which is up 6.5 percent from his career total.
An increased fly ball percentage is not always a good thing, but in Herrmann's case it has been, as these fly balls are turning into home runs. He owns a 22.7 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio this season, which would easily be a new career high, and he's already surpassed his career-best four home runs hit in exactly 100 more plate appearances for the Twins in 2013.
It's unlikely that Herrmann finishes the season with his current home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, but his Hard% of 51.0 is tops among batters with at least 70 plate appearances this season, so good things are in store if he's able to maintain his ability to consistently make solid contact. He also won't have to do much to remain one of baseball's best hitting catchers.
Herrmann's Rank Among His Peers
Among catchers with at least 70 plate appearances this season, Herrmann is first in Isolated Power (.314), SLG (.600), wOBA (.393), and OPS (.938). He's second in wRC+ (143) and tied for second in Wins Above Replacement (1.2fWAR).
He's already worth a full win more than he previous career high (0.2 fWAR), and he's accomplished this in less than half the games played.
Herrmann credits a new mindset to his breakout, saying that his inconsistent playing time with the Twins hurt his approach at the plate. He explained this by saying, "If I had a bad game and I didn’t get to play for four or five days, it kind of sunk in and I was just down on myself."
Through working with his hitting coaches, Herrmann has replaced this way of thinking with a more proactive attitude saying he goes into "each and every at-bat with a positive attitude. Knowing that something good is going to happen...Step in the box and know that something good can come out of this at-bat."
It seems simple, but it's been working for Herrmann and he's received more playing time because of it, seeing some action in the outfield and even in center field.
Neat note: Arizona's Chris Herrmann becomes the first player to start a game at C and CF in a season since Detroit's Brandon Inge in 2008.
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) May 15, 2016
It's unlikely that Herrmann will see much more time roaming center field, but as baseball's current hardest hitter, he needs to be in the lineup everyday. Something good can come out of it.