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Jeremy Hermida = Ben Grieve?

Outfielder Jeremy Hermida was the object of scouting and sabermetric admiration as his climbed up the Florida Marlins’ farm system. With a silky-smooth left-handed swing and tremendous plate discipline, Hermida frequently adorned top prospect lists from Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. In fact, BA ranked the 6-3, 210 pounder as the 4th-best prospect in the minors in 2006, with BP valuing him as the 2nd-best talent down on the farm. His .284/.398/.436 career minor league line left something to be desired in the power department, but Hermida appeared to answer those questions with a monster .293/.457/.518 showing at AA Carolina in 2005.

Fresh off of smoking the Southern League, Hermida would have a scalding cup of coffee with the Marlins to end the ’05 season, batting .293/.383/.634 in 47 PA. Baseball Prospectus 2006 was smitten, writing that “if he stops he is he’s going to be a fine player, but if he develops along the normal curve he could be Bondsian.” Talk about high praise.

Despite the hype, 2006 would actually turn out to be something of a lost season for Hermida. He battled a hip flexor injury and never seemed fully healthy, batting just .251/.332/.368 in 348 PA. Hermida drew walks at a 9.7% clip, but without power (.117 Isolated Power) and with a rather high strikeout rate (22.8 K%). Still, he was just 22 years of age, and figured to improve significantly once he was healed up.

Hermida’s 2007 campaign went far more smoothly, as he hit a robust .296/.369/.501. His ISO jumped all the way up to .205, and he retained a solid walk rate, drawing a free pass 9.9% of the time. However, Hermida’s K rate did climb to 24.5%, and his .356 BABIP was pretty high. Given Hermida’s line drive rate (20.7%), we would have expected his BABIP to come in around .327 (the formula for expected BABIP is LD% + .120; .207 + .120= .327). If we take that into account, his line “should” have been about .267/.340/.472. That took some of the air out of Hermida’s season, but that still served as a significant improvement over the previous year’s work.

As a 24 year old in 2008, Hermida figured to build upon his ’07 showing, perhaps making good on the promise that his former top prospect status entailed. Instead, he took a step backward. Hermida wasn’t terrible, mind you, but his .249/.323/.406 line was roundly mediocre. The drop in his batting average was expected (when you whiff that often, you’re not going to hit .300 for an extended period of time), but his walk rate dipped to 8.7% and his ISO fell down to .157, basically splitting the difference between his punchless 2006 and powerful 2007. His already-high strikeout rate climbed to 27.5% as well.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Hermida’s down year was the continued erosion of his once-pristine strike-zone judgment. Noted for his take-and-rake style in the minors, Hermida has progressively become more liberal in terms of chasing bad balls out of the strike zone:

Hermida’s Outside Swing Percentage (O-Swing%), 2006-2008

2006: 19%
2007: 22.2%
2008: 27.8%

In addition to chasing more pitches out of the zone, Hermida also swung at fewer strikes this past season. His Z-Swing% dipped from 64.2% in 2007 to 59.6% in 2008. As he is getting older, Hermida is swinging at more balls and taking more strikes. That’s an inauspicious combination.

So, just what sort of player is Jeremy Hermida? Is he the Brian Giles clone that his minor league dossier suggests, or is he going to continue to disappoint? Baseball Prospectus 2008 offered an interesting (and insidious) possible career path for Hermida. Per PECOTA, Hermida’s most comparable player is Ben Grieve. For those of you who don’t remember, Grieve was a another big, left-handed batter who received plenty of prospect love for his patient approach. However, Grieve’s career quickly faded to black after he won the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year Award, as prohibitively high strikeout rates and mid-range power got the best of him. There are a number of similarities between Hermida and Grieve:

Jeremy Hermida

HT: 6-3 WT: 210
Career Minor League Line: .284/.398/.436, 18.5 BB%, 22K%, .152 ISO
Major League Line: .267/.342/.436, 9.5 BB%, 25.4 K%, .170 ISO

Ben Grieve

HT: 6-4 WT: 230
Career Minor League Line: .302/.407/.484, 16.9BB%, 19.8K%, .182 ISO
Major League Line: .269/.367/.442, 12.7 BB%, 24.4K%, .173 ISO

I know that it’s probably a little unfair to compare Hermida (25 in January) and his major league line thus far to Grieve’s entire line of work in the big leagues, but Grieve’s career was essentially over by the time he was 26.

None of this is to say that Hermida’s career is doomed; this is just one possible path for his development. Still, there are a lot of striking similarities between the two players, and the Marcel projection system does not foresee much of any improvement, forecasting a mild .271/.348/.440 line for 2009. Fantasy owners will want to use caution regarding Hermida, lest they suffer a Griev(e)ous fate as another top prospect falls short of expectations.