An uncomfortable truth is that, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s fun to play favorites. Watching someone, or something we’ve anointed with our favor succeed results in an intoxicating bouquet of pride, joy, and, truthfully, superiority. It’s easy to love your team’s greatest players, and we almost all do; Junior, Edgar, Felix, Ichiro, etc. But there is something special about picking a player before greatness, catching them before their rise. It’s personal, in a way rooting for superstars is not.
The 2017 Mariners are not a great team, but they are replete with fun players to root for. You could pick one of a group of 6-7 guys to ride with. I’ve made my choice, and it’s an intense, scrappy outfielder from the island of Cuba.
Experiencing Guillermo Heredia playing baseball is like watching George Bailey wildly running around Bedford Falls at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, telling everyone and everything Merry Christmas. He possesses the emotional equivalent of an exoskeleton, and watching everything he feels and experiences portrayed so visibly, at all times, is riveting.
Earlier this week, when Heredia saved Nick Vincent’s ass with a fantastic running grab in Los Angeles I announced, with my usual lack of thought or research, that of all the Mariners sudden bounty of quality outfielders, he is the one I would take for the next five years. That was a moment of mildly inebriated hubris, and as we now have this nice new place to serve for investigation, I went searching for some ACTUAL DATA, to determine just how dumb I was and am.
I can do a decent Fangraphs/BRef search like a normal baseball blogger, but for a player I love as much as Guillermo Heredia, I wanted to find some good stuff. As such I consulted with good friend Eric Blankenship, formerly of Lookout Landing, and as sharp a baseball mind as I personally know. Eric disappeared into the Matrix for a while and came back with an exhaustive look at how Heredia’s offensive profile comps with major leaguers past and present:
Well well, there are some might fine baseball players on this list. Angel Pagan would be a terrific career for Guillermo. Ditto, David DeJesus and few others. Heredia’s combination of quality plate control, and contact ability has worked very well for some very good players over the years. However, for Heredia to separate himself from the Timo Perez and Augie Ojedas of this list he needs to do two, mostly interconnected things better: He needs to hit the ball in the air more, and improve that ISO slugging.
Players like Heredia walk a very narrow path with their offensive profile. Little power and absolutely no power is one of the key differences between 2009 and 2010 Chone Figgins. The total absence of power means pitchers regard you with a total absence of fear, and you really want major league pitchers to feel some fear.
Guillermo’s slight frame, tendency to dive over the plate, and, to this author’s marginally trained eye, below average lower body torque limits his ability to hit home runs, even with the nonsense rabbit ball MLB is currently using. Still, the swing and contact ability are there for more than a singles slap hitter. A player with Heredia’s well-rounded skillset, speed, and defensive ability can be a quality starting outfielder on a good major league roster if he can hit 30+ doubles, and with his speed a few of those can be triples. That kind of contact should be, and I’d imagine is, the goal he and the team have set for him moving forward.
The offensive side of the game needs only to reach average to slightly above average levels, because by most accounts and data Heredia is a very good defensive outfielder. Fangraphs currently has him at +5 runs saved defensively, whereas the Total Zone Rating used by baseball-reference has him accruing 0.9 wins with glove alone in 2017. This serves as a good excuse to say hey holy shit y’all remember that time Guillermo Heredia sprinted backwards and, in the span of approximately a half second turned, found the ball, leaped, crashed into the wall, and robbed Andrelton Simmons of a home run?
BASEBALL SURRENDER COBRA
Guillermo Heredia’s story of defection, quality defense, and electrifyingly energetic playing style has made him one of my favorite 2017 Seattle Mariners. The path to a long, productive major league career exists, but more than likely he projects as a quality 4th outfielder, a role that easily makes him a Jerry Dipoto success story. However if I’m honest, from a front office perspective I would not, in fact, take him over all the Mariners other young outfielders. The road to stardom is simply too long and winding for a player with such a low offensive ceiling.
As a fan, however, I can do whatever I want, and that is this: I want to sit down, turn on my tv, and let this earnest, skilled, passionate man from Matanzas make me care about what he does every second he’s in the game. He’ll do that, as long as he wears a Mariners uniform, and probably well after.
(I am extremely grateful and indebted, again, to Eric Blankenship for his assistance in researching and compiling the data for this post, and talking through it with me.)