The Miami Marlins are in the periphery of the Wild Card race, so every single win counts. This is especially true for a team that is likely overachieving; the Marlins simply cannot afford to waste significant plate appearances and innings on players that have not performed over the course of the season. While the Marlins' tremendous outfield tries to carry them to the finish line, the infield is attempting to sink the ship. The quartet of Garrett Jones, Adeiny Hechavarria, Casey McGehee, and whoever is playing second base at this moment has been one of the worst crews in the league. While McGehee has been worth about two wins so far this season, the rest of the infield has been varying levels of bad.
But it is at shortstop where the biggest discrepancy between Marlins fans lies. All Marlins fans think Giancarlo Stanton is a deserving MVP candidate. All Marlins fans agree that Jones is not a good first baseman. But aside from the seemingly incongruous thoughts on Jarrod Saltalamacchia (compare here with here), nowhere do Marlins fans differ more than on Adeiny Hechavarria. To some, he is the future at shortstop, a slick-fielding middle infield anchor who is growing steadily at the plate and showed improvement since last year. To others (including yours truly), he is a horrific hitter with little to no plate skills and questionable defense.
Which is true? Some of those above points are harder to argue for or prove than others, but let's discuss each side to see where we stand.
There are Marlins fans among us who are optimists who see positives in any player and situation. But there are others of us who are simply looking at Adeiny Hechavarria is a different way than readers of this blog do. Either way, they see something in Hechavarria that screams "potential."
Potential is fun to look for. It often keeps fans of bad teams afloat during the grind of a 162-game season. And Hechavarria is an (at times) impressive athlete, a player with a nice-looking swing, and the allure of youth is on his side. Hechavarria is just 25 years old, and he comes with a stellar reputation for defensive prowess. And when you watch plays like this, you could probably easily convince yourself of that.
You can watch that and convince yourself that that is a Gold Glove defender at shortstop. That has tools and talent written all over it.
And when you convince yourself of that kind of raw talent turning into (or even being, right now) something special defensively, it is easier to see the positives on the other side. It goes double when you look at only certain numbers to justify your argument. Hechavarria has improved from an ugly 2013 season to a better 2014 year. He is batting .273 as of yesterday's game, which is up almost 50 points over last season! His OBP and SLG are also up a similar amount!
You see that increase, and your mind starts to develop a trend line. You know Hechavarria has potential because he was a decent (but not top-100) prospect and has great defensive athleticism. You see that his numbers are improved, and that his batting average matches a standard that you accept. The fans who see Hechavarria as an improving hitter are the ones who are drawing a trendline from .227 to .275 and possibly seeing .300 in the future.
They may even think .275 is a great number to be at when you are as good a defender as Hechavarria. And when a player like him reaches a certain level of performance, the only way to go is up, and they cannot get any worse than this. The key, as you will often here, is consistency. If Hechavarria could consistently hit .275, which he has shown he can because he did it this season, he has the potential to be one of the best shortstops in baseball.
Or so the optimists say.
The Adeiny Hechavarria argument lies on the back of bad "baseball card" statistics and judging his defense by its cover. The argument on offense is that he is batting .273 this season and that is vastly improved over last year. He needs to only maintain this, and if he ever gets any better, watch out!
But batting average does not tell you everything you need to know about a player. Consider this other shortstop with a similar batting average:
Adeiny Hechavarria: .273
Other Shortstop: .277
Without knowing anything but batting average (which is what a lot of Hechavarria supporters are solely using, besides relatively useless stats like runs or RBIs), you might say Other Shortstop is only a little better. Well, here's the other shortstop's stats.
Hechavarria: .273/.305/.355 (.284 wOBA)
Hanley Ramirez: .277/.367/.455 (.364 wOBA)
One guy is miles ahead of the other, and that is primarily because we are not using just batting average to justify Hechavarria's hitting. On-base percentage incorporates walks and hit-by-pitches, which are other ways to get on base. Slugging percentage incorporates power, which is the primary way to move baserunners, Hechavarria might rank seventh in batting average among the 23 qualified Major League shortstops this year, but in the two batting stats that tell you strictly more than batting average, he ranks 18th (OBP) and 15th (SLG) respectively.
And there lies the problem. The argument for Hechavarria's hitting lies in batting average, but it ignores not only OBP and SLG, but home runs, RBIs, and a myriad of things that he is bad at accumulating. It only sees the positive, because the positive picture shines with potential. The things he is bad at doing, like hitting for power or getting on base, are ignored as things he does not need to do because of his defensive performance. The truth is getting on base and hitting to move runners over are the two most important things to do offensively.
There is an argument for Hechavarria's offensive improvement this season, especially within the season. His supporters say that his batting has gotten better over the last few months. But this argument is difficult to make and requires very specific endpoints. Hechavarria has not played particularly well in any given month this year.
This does not look like much of a pattern to me. The pattern disappears even more when you extend it to two-month stretches.
To have the supposed trends dissipate even more with more data makes it less likely. Unless Marlins fans are noticing a distinct change in swing and underlying approach, of which there does not seem to be evidence, then this may be more of our desire to find trends rather than a true "improvement" over this season.
The argument for Adeiny Hechavarria is a difficult one to make. You either have to be very optimistic about his so-called improvement, or you have to be blind of what he does poorly in favor of the very few things he does well. To argue for his offense is to argue for potential, but with his last two seasons, it seems impossible to see any potential in his offensive play. The question of his defense, however, still rages on and is still an open book.