Guillermo Heredia was never the most talented player on the Braves, or the most dynamic on the field, but make no mistake, his contributions to the 2022 did not go unnoticed. Or unappreciated.
In the lead -up to the 2021 season, the New York Mets placed Heredia on waivers, hoping to pass him through to their minor league system. The Braves used that opportunity to claim Heredia and offered him an invite to Spring Training. While he wasn’t able to make the team out of Spring Training, he was valuable enough for the Braves to select him for their taxi squad for the 2021 season. Shortly after the season began, Ehire Adrianza was put on the Injured List, and Heredia was called up to take his place on the active roster, which is more or less where he’s been ever since. After 2021, he signed a 1-year, $1 million deal to avoid arbitration and was once again under contract for the Braves for the 2022 season.
What were the expectations?
Heredia had a decent year in 2021, playing really strong centerfield defense and hitting reasonably well (101 wRC+, underperforming his .335 xwOBA) against left-handed pitching, making him a valuable bench piece. The expectation coming into 2022 was that he’d basically provide the exact same thing, a late-inning defensive replacement and someone you could pinch-hit with against left handed pitchers, though the introduction of the universal DH cut into a lot of prospective pinch-hitting opportunities. The main expectation, though, was that Heredia would be a tremendous teammate and a major asset for clubhouse morale.
It was probably hard to expect that Heredia would get either the playing time or the production to clear the 1.0 fWAR he posted in 2021, but somewhere in the 0.5-1.0 range seemed doable.
The end result was exactly that Heredia was a tremendous teammate and a major asset for clubhouse morale, and not much else. On the field, he definitely didn't have the season he wanted, as most of the offensive gains he saw in 2021 were not replicated in 2022. The implementation of the DH in the NL drastically reduced his pinch-hitting opportunities and his offensive production dropped from an 80 overall wRC+ in 2021, to a 53 overall wRC+ in 2022. He only got 41 PAs against lefties over the course of the year, but scuffled there too, with just a 64 wRC+ (with a matching xwOBA).
Defensively, the emergence of Michael Harris II pretty much ended any opportunities Heredia had to play center on a regular basis, as Harris came up and immediately became one of the best defenders in the sport. And even when Heredia did play, he didn’t have the same defensive success, going from 5 Outs Above Average in 2021, to 0 OAA in 2022.
In the end, Heredia had -0.2 fWAR in 82 PAs while substantially outhitting his xwOBA (.246 wOBA, .228 xwOBA). He only made into 74 games in any capacity, though he stayed on the roster the whole year but for a brief five-day stint where he was optioned to the minors in a roster shuffle.
With most of Heredia’s on-field purposes reduced, or taken away all together, his primary job became keeping team chemistry, dugout energy and clubhouse morale all as high as possible. And he ranked in the 99th percentile at it with his random pink swords, seemingly endless amounts of energy, constant chatter, and infectious smile. His teammates loved him, the fans loved him, and basically without any on-field contributions, Heredia became one of the most popular players in the organization.
What went right? What went wrong?
Heredia did have some notable moments in 2022. In a 2-2 game in the 7th inning against Oakland, Heredia launched a solo home run to give the Braves the lead:
That was actually the game-winning homer that capped the scoring in a game where all three Braves runs were solo shots: this one, and two earlier by Ronald Acuña Jr.
It’s kind of fitting that Heredia’s worst WPA game of the season came in a 9-2 win; his on-field performance was not really the prominent part of his contributions. In that game, he had a pretty hilarious line considering, again, it was his worst WPA game of the year: 1-for-3 with the two-run homer below, a walk, and two strikeouts. The reason it was so bad WPA-wise is because one of those strikeouts came in a tie game, first-and-third, one out situation, and his homer came during garbage time.
This wasn’t from 2022 but this is still the greatest thing I’ve ever seen involving a walk-off and swords:
and with it one of the greatest still images I’ve ever seen as Heredia actually beat Fried to the first base bag:
As far as went wrong, the huge spike strikeouts in 2022 is what really did Guillermo’s offense in. Heredia strikeout rate in 2021 was 23 percent, in 2022 it was 39 percent. His batted ball profile this year actually showed some signs of improvement over last year but when your strikeout rate almost doubles, all of those batted ball gains are going to get washed away. Combine that with a much less productive year on defense, which is par for the course for a 31-year-old centerfielder, and it’s not hard to figure out why Heredia actually produced a negative fWAR (-0.2) in 2022.
Here’s Heredia chasing a really bad pitch in that key situation mentioned above, just for visual evidence:
Because Heredia’s on-field role was diminished so much, he was always a candidate to be designated for assignment this off-season, especially if there was a payroll or 40-man roster crunch. And, that’s exactly what happened.
With the Braves having to add players to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, 40-man spots became very tight and Heredia was the victim of a numbers game. As for next year, reports are Heredia is signing with the SSG Landers of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) on a 1-year, $1 million deal, all guaranteed. Good for him. Looks like we’re saying farewell to one of the greatest clubhouse characters we’ve ever seen. Raise your swords to the great Guillermo Heredia.