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2014 Marlins Season Review: Adeiny Hechavarria

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The Adeiny Hechavarria schism continues to grow, as the shortstop's bat improved but was still among the worst in baseball, while the question of his defensive play remains at the forefront of the conversation.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We have had plenty of discussion about Adeiny Hechavarria here at Fish Stripes, and now we stand here again ready to discuss his 2014 season and all of its oddities and idiosyncrasies. Hechavarria is perhaps the most controversial player on the Miami Marlins, and it stems from one thing: the perception of him as a Gold Glove defender.

The crux of the argument for Hechavarria is that his defense is superb, on or close to the level of the best in the game like Andrelton Simmons and J.J. Hardy. The Marlins believe this to be the case, and it allows them liberties with the rest of his flawed game. Hechavarria displays a level of flash that is tough to ignore, and he does seem like he makes plays that a select few shortstops can make at times. He looks the part of an athletic, rangy defender at the position, much like Simmons does.

The problem is that some of the zone-based defensive metrics do not seem to be in agreement with this sentiment. UZR has rated him as very negative over the course of his career at shortstop, as he has accrued 18 runs worse than average in the last two-plus seasons at the position. According to DRS, he has been better than that, but still negative overall, at six runs worse than average in that time frame.

Of course, even some of the numbers disagree. According to Baseball Prospectus's own metric, which is based only on adjusted play-by-play data and eschews zone-based analysis (in other words, it does not parcel necessary plays made based by zone but adjusts the total plays expected to be made based by batted ball type and other environmental factors), Hechavarria was highly positive this season, at almost eight runs above average. Here we have the first bit of evidence that Hechavarria has been a positive contributor by the numbers, and it is in a statistic that takes a more basic approach and tries to avoid the bias that is present in zone metrics.

Is it possible that zone-based metrics may be underestimating Hechavarria? Sure, it's possible. Given that our scouting knowledge and, to some extent, our scouting data skews Hechavarria towards at least a league average shortstop defensively, the first bit of positive defensive metrics performance is a good sign. One data point does not skew everything (he was rated negatively by BP in 2013), but it is more evidence towards Hechavarria being at least an average defender and perhaps even a bit above average. And if that is the case, then the spectrum of Hechavarria's value changes again, with his value being closer to acceptable.

OFFENSE POSITION FIELDING COMPARISON WAR
-9 +5 +0 Alexei Ramirez, Jean Seguera 1.0

This is where I probably sit with Hechavarria. Both of the above named players are averaging numbers that are average to slightly below that mark, and I would be willing to rate Hechavarria similarly. With just an average shortstop performance, Hechavarria would be on pace to finish a 600-plate appearance season with 1.4 wins. That is about the level we expected players like Casey McGehee to play at before the season began. At that point, you are talking about a very good investment for a player at $2 million, which is what Hechavarria stands to make next season.

Of course, Hechavarria's defense, whether it is as good as his appearance advertises or as bad as some of the metrics say, affects the acceptability of his bat. During the 2014 season, Hechavarria started the year on a nice hot streak and ended the year on a good run as well, and that colored the impression of his season as an improvement. And it was an improvement over a disastrous 2013 year in which he hit .227/.267/.298 (.251 wOBA). Of course, almost anything would be an improvement over that year, but the Hech supporters would point out his .276 batting average as a mark of an above-average hitting shortstop this year.

This simply is not the case. Hechavarria hit .276/.308/.356 this season, worthy of a .290 wOBA. Among the Marlins with at least 200 plate appearances, there were only two with worse wOBAs than Hechavarria's, and they were Reed Johnson, a washed-up backup outfielder, and Donovan Solano, who is not good either. And the comparison with shortstops is damning as well. Hechavarria had the sixth-best batting average among the 22 shortstops who qualified for the batting title in 2014. But he also had only the 14th-best OBP and 18th-best slugging percentage among those same players. Overall, his wOBA, which is a total offensive metric that includes all batting results, was only 18th-ranked among all those shortstops. The ranking goes up to 17th after you correct for park effects.

Photo by Alex Goodlett, Getty Images

No matter how you slice it, Hechavarria was worse than the average shortstop on offense, and his batting line was still bad despite the improvement. Furthermore, a lot of his batting line came from improvement on BABIP. He hit .323 on balls in play this year after hitting .270 last season. The league average is around .290, and even though Hechavarria hits more than the usual number of line drives, it is hard to expect him to repeat this performance again next season, just like he was not expected to repeat 2013's performance. If he ends up somewhere in between .270 and .320, his batting line will look worse than it did this year.

Hechavarria improve on none of the other aspects of his game. He both struck out and walked less, though the decreases were small in both metrics. He swung more often rather than less, in part because teams attacked him in the strike zone. Somehow, he made less contact this year, though the drop off was also small. None of these minor changes would be expected to help him develop more patient approach that would draw more walks and put him on base more often.

Hechavarria did improve on offense and may have been a better defensive player this year. But those improvements at most amounted to putting him above replacement level and into the one-win territory. While this may have left his 2014 season acceptable, it did not assuage many of the concerns that still linger for 2015 and beyond. Hechavarria's batting line may very well be worse next season with no improvement in his walk rate or power, and the question of his defense still lingers.

Grade: C-