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The Chris Herrmann Situation (Plus, This Week in History)

The Diamondbacks gave up a mid-level prospect in Daniel Palka for the erstwhile backup catcher/utility player Chris Herrmann, who had been without a real spot on the Twins roster. Here's the case for keeping Herrmann (if he is healthy) on the Diamondbacks, and even getting him regular at bats.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Trading a prospect who had just hit 29 home runs for a career backup with an OPS+ of 46 just after the World Series ended seems like a very Diamondbacks move. After all, they spent pretty much the entire winter giving up prospects left and right for what might be construed as lottery tickets (and in many cases are.) Isan Diaz may never amount to much on the major league level, but do we really expect Jean Segura to return to his 2013 form? Surely the Diamondbacks could have gotten a better pitcher if they were willing to give up two top prospects, as well as a very good center fielder! Chris Herrmann certainly doesn't seem like a player that will have any role on a contending team.

The negatives are simple: Herrmann is 28, hasn't ever managed to seize a spot on what has been a very poor Twins team, and hasn't hit at all at the major league level. Sure, he is left handed and can play multiple positions (he has seen time at both corner outfield spots, catcher, and first base at the major league level; he also got one inning at third base in the minor leagues.) But he doesn't project as an above-average defender at any of these positions. Pretty much the best thing that can be said about his defense is that he hasn't been terrible.

The counterpoint is that Herrmann hasn't ever had consistent playing time at the major league level. He's gotten 389 plate appearances, but those are spread over four seasons. When he's been at the major league level, he hasn't gotten consistent at bats, getting just 89 starts. And while his defense may not be considered as above-average, the Twins have used him as a defensive replacement, generally in the outfield, although also as a catcher late last season. So apparently they think enough of his defense to do so.

But defense, even in the age of advanced metrics, is just too hard to figure without actually seeing a guy play. And I haven't seen Chris Herrmann play, not really. Sure, I might have seen him in a game here or there, but I wasn't really watching. So this won't deal with his defense, other than to say that he is apparently not in the Mark Trumbo-Yasmany Tomas mold.

This trade was about Chris Herrmann's bat, anyway. Positional flexibility is nice, but it helps to be able to hit. And here is why the Diamondbacks traded for Herrmann: a .352 minor league OBP. And it's not that he's achieved that mark by capitalizing on lower-levels; he's never played in a hitter's league, and he posted a .373 OBP at AAA in 2014 and followed that up with .364 (in only 88 plate appearances, though) in 2015.

For comparison sake, let's consider two catchers. One played in the PCL, the other in the IL. Both bounced back and forth between their parent clubs and AAA. Both are about the same age, although player A reached the AAA level sooner and stayed there longer (parts of 5 seasons).

  • Catcher A (PCL): 714 plate appearances. .269/.345/.486 slash line. 9% walk rate. 9.4% XBH rate. 21.4% K Rate
  • Catcher B (IL): 591 plate appearances. .261/.336/.391 slash line. 9.5% walk rate. 7.6% XBH rate. 20.1% K Rate.
  • Catcher A (MLB): 1447 plate appearances. .251/.316/.414 slash. 7.1% walk rate. 8.2% XBH rate. 24.4% K Rate
  • Catcher B (MLB): 389 plate appearances. .181/.249/.280 slash. 7.7% walk rate. 5.7% XBH rate. 27.8% K Rate
Catcher B is clearly Herrmann. He clearly doesn't have as much power as Catcher A, even though he is better at getting doubles and triples and drawing walks. Apart from the home runs, though, there isn't a tremendous amount of difference between the AAA stats. Despite not getting regular at bats and not being a threat, Herrmann has still been better at drawing walks than Catcher A, and given that this was in the AL, it's not like he was hitting in front of the pitcher and benefiting from that.

Catcher A is Welington Castillo. Those numbers, of course, include his explosion last year. Now, note this sentence particularly well: I am not saying that Herrmann has a chance to do what Castillo did last year. What Castillo did last year was beyond the wildest expectations of anyone. He improved across the board, midseason, in just about every offensive category. I wouldn't bet any money on Castillo being able to sustain over a full season the offensive output that he managed with the Diamondbacks last year. It's not going to happen. The Diamondbacks weren't expecting that level of play, and shouldn't be going into this year. If he hits somewhere around his career average (OPS+ of 99) he'll still be a very good catcher, offensively speaking.

In a lot of ways, though, Herrmann is a left-handed Welington Castillo. At least, he is the left handed reclamation project who couldn't get playing time in Chicago after his offense dipped in 2014 and caused the Cubs to trade for Miguel Montero. He couldn't hit in limited time in Seattle, before the Diamondbacks got him at cut-rate prices. And then, along with fellow reclamation project Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the Diamondbacks finished 4th in the NL by WAA from the catcher position, even ahead of those Cubs, with Montero.

The Diamondbacks traded for Herrmann to be the Saltalamacchia half of the catching pair from last season. (Thankfully, his defense is, by all accounts, superior to Salty's.) He is a reclamation project in certain ways, but he is a player that, if he gets consistent at bats, has a chance to get on base over 30% of the time, and if he shows a similar drop to what Castillo showed between AAA and the major leagues, he should post about a .320 OBP. In doing so, they gave up a player unlikely to be a star, and with not great chances of ever making it to the major leagues. That said, they did still give something up. And since a player with the potential to post a .320 OBP wouldn't clear waivers, they aren't going to just let him go. He'll be on the roster, and have every chance to contribute.

The potential of a player who can post a .320 OBP as a backup catcher/corner outfielder is just too much for the Diamondbacks (a team that struggles with OBP skills) to pass up. The Dodgers getting that level of offensive production out of A.J. Ellis last year as Grandal struggled offensively certainly helped them win the division. Can Herrmann provide that level? I think we'll get a chance to see early on, and if he continues to struggle it won't hurt the Diamondbacks terribly to DFA him at that point (it would also increase his chances of clearing waivers.) He's put together the best spring of his career, though, and his AAA track records leads to hope that he can continue.

This Week In History

This week in 2014, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers opened the season in Sydney, Australia. This trip was announced directly following the brawl between the teams in 2013, which leads me to suggest in true conspiracy theorist form that Selig planned the whole thing, and Eric Hinske was just his fall guy.

This week in 2001, this happened.

That may be the most famous seagull of all time. I certainly can't think of a more famous one. The gulls were really bad at Exhibition Stadium, and occasionally would get hit by baseballs, but I don't think any of them ever were hit by a Hall-of-Famer, and if they were, it wasn't caught on video. Similar events have happened at minor league games and in cricket, but there's never been an explosion of feathers quite like this one.