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The case of Adeiny Hechavarria's questionable defense

The Miami Marlins demoted Derek Dietrich because of defensive woes, but shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is also struggling with the glove despite a Gold Glove reputation. But is his problem so clear cut?

How good has Adeiny Hechavarria been defensively?
How good has Adeiny Hechavarria been defensively?
Tom Pennington

A few weeks back, the Miami Marlins demoted second baseman Derek Dietrich because of his defensive struggles in the team's mind. The move was met with considerable controversy given that Dietrich had been among the team's best hitters but was also making an atrocious example of second base play at the time. It was still worth it for Miami to keep him on the roster over the likes of Ed Lucas or Donovan Solano, but the Fish went in another direction.

What is interesting about this, particularly as Miami heads into the middle of an all-important June that will show whether the team will remain in contention or not, is that Dietrich is not the only disappointing defensive liability in the infield. While Garrett Jones and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were known defensive liabilities, one player expected to be a Gold Glove anchor has not necessarily played like one. Adeiny Hechavarria, the team's struggling shortstop, has not looked good defensively in the metrics for some time. According to UZR, he has been 3.5 runs worse than average this season. According to Baseball Prospectus's FRAA, he has been two runs worse than average at the position. DRS does have him as a positive at three runs better than average, for a mark of just about average if you put the three together.

This was not supposed to be this way. Hechavarria's claim to fame was an elite MLB glove at shortstop, and that was supposed to help stem the bleeding from his awful bat, which has remained awful. But even if he is not a liability, even being average at his position is not enough to make him playable with his league-worst bat. If he was just an OK shortstop, he should have left the lineup a while ago. But the Marlins continue to run him out there, even with a free agent returning from injury who has only played that position for more than a decade.

But do these numbers tell the only story? Hechavarria looks like an above-average defender, especially with his occasional flashy play. Might the number be underestimating him? Let's take a look at two scouting-based resources and examine what they believe.

Fans Scouting Report

Last season, eight Marlins fans voted in the Fans Scouting Report for Adeiny Hechavarria and provided their thoughts. The eight fans put in the various variables, and the eventual result was an average result over the course of the season. Hechavarria's rating ranked 15th out of 21 qualified shortstops, and FanGraphs had calculated it at one run above average. This left him about equivalent to guys like Zack Cozart, Alexei Ramirez, and Stephen Drew.

There is some concern about bias in the Fans Scouting Report. Many fans who vote in that forum also are FanGraphs readers and may be influenced by advanced statistics and their lack of praise for Hechavarria. If that is the case, that may skew the numbers down from where they should be. But it is impossible to know how much that is affecting the system, so it is best to take the data at face value and consider the priors involving Hechavarria. In the previous year, 29 Toronto Blue Jays fans voted his shortstop play as top-notch, ranked sixth among players with 100 innings played. That means we are more likely to be somewhere in between elite and average according to the fans.

Inside Edge Scouting

Here is where I found an interesting result. When we look at the plays judged by the Inside Edge Scouting system as being "routine," or completed 90 to 100 percent of the time by shortstops, only two players with at least 1500 innings at shortstop since 2012 have a better rate of conversion on those plays than Hechavarria. And the names are no surprise to anyone:

Player "Routine" Conversion%
Andrelton Simmons 98.8
J.J. Hardy 98.6
Jimmy Rollins 98.3
Adeiny Hechavarria 98.3
Yunel Escobar 98.2
Stephen Drew 98.2

The names up there include the undisputed best defensive shortstop in baseball, one of the previous undisputed kings, an old-timer still with good skill, and a number of other well-respected names. In the middle is Hechavarria, who has done as well as expected according to this metric. According to this, Hechavarria only allowed about two additional routine balls per season more than Andrelton Simmons, the best shortstop in the game. That fits his reputation quite well.

Was the problem in the other zones, the ones with more difficult plays? Those samples are smaller, but if we conglomerate them, we can see how this top five did in those categories as a group.

Player Other Conversion%
Andrelton Simmons 60.4
J.J. Hardy 50.3
Jimmy Rollins 40.7
Adeiny Hechavarria 51.1
Yunel Escobar 44.2
Stephen Drew 41.7

You can kind of see how Simmons has separated himself from the pack, but it is impressive to see Hechavarria's numbers second among this list. This should imply that not only is Hechavarria converting the things he is supposed to complete, but he is also getting to a number of balls in more difficult zones. Over the last few years, the average shortstop has made plays out of the zone like these at about a 46 percent clip, meaning just three of the above guys were better than average in that regard.

The scouting information at least indicates that Hechavarria should be above average. Specifically, the Inside Edge data seems to think he is among the elite shortstops in the game, which makes his numbers disagreement all the more puzzling. But you can see why the Fish decided to hold onto his defensive game, as they are more likely to agree that he is a Gold Glove-caliber defender. The likely truth is somewhere in between all of this, and it is far more likely that even at his above average defensive level, he still is not a valuable contributor to the Marlins. But given the discrepancy, we can at least rule out a below-replacement-level projection going forward.

What do you Fish Stripers think? How has Hechavarria's defense been to you?