Lately, there has been a good amount of discussion about how Adeiny Hechavarria is better or worse than you think, and for more than a few reasons. I tried to explain the Hechavarria schism, but it seems that some fans still have a hard time believing that Hechavarria could be struggling on defense. I tried to ask fans to take the scouting challenge and see just how hard it is to judge defense just by observing a player, especially in the context of the average TV-viewing fan.
Now it seems I have backup from Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs.
Those are the most advanced numbers. But we can pull back and consider a variety of data points. Have you ever taken a look at RZR? Hechavarria’s made a below-average number of plays in his zone, for a shortstop. He’s been about exactly average out of his zone. The Marlins have allowed baseball’s second-highest BABIP on groundballs, and while that doesn’t really isolate the shortstop position, they’re also below average on grounders hit vaguely to the shortstop’s area. The advanced numbers don’t see enough plays. The more simple numbers don’t see enough plays.
Why don’t we leave some room for opinion? Obviously, the Marlins think Hechavarria’s fantastic. But according to the Baseball America tools survey, managers think Simmons, Tulowitzki, and Desmond are the best defensive shortstops in the National League. They think those same three guys have the best infield arms.
It turns out Hechavarria has bad defensive numbers and a good reputation among the Marlins, but not as strong a reputation overall. The Baseball America annual tools article showed no respect to Hech's skill, favoring guys who make a modicum of sense. It seems like there is definitely no industry consensus on Hechavarria's defense, even as Marlins fans continue to tout his great plays while forgetting his bad ones.
That is just the nature of how our brains are wired to work, especially when we have prior information and bias going in. It took years for folks to realize that Derek Jeter was not a good shortstop, because old habits die hard and your brain, having pre-determined that he is good, watches him in a more positive light. Hechavarria is building that kind of reputation among Marlins fans: he is a great athlete, all of the Marlins love his defense, Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton praise him nightly, and slowly but surely he begins to be able to do no wrong.
Since we cannot find an agreement, let's try and evaluate his season in a different way. Defense is clearly the most questionable part of the Wins Above Replacement statistics, as advanced defensive stats are not necessarily set in stone. But it is undeniable that his offensive contribution has been terrible so far; out 156 qualified batters, Hechavarria's batting line is the 15th-worst in the game. Out of the 22 qualified shortstops, his line is 17th in the game. There is no easy way around it: Hechavarria has been a bad hitter this season.
Since we can be fairly sure of Hechavarria's hitting and baserunning numbers this season, let's add those to whatever defensive evaluation you want to use and see how well he has played based on those assumptions. According to FanGraphs, Hechavarria has been worth about nine runs below average in the batting and baserunning component. Let's tack on five runs above average for his positional adjustment. That leaves him four runs below average without considering his defense.
|-9||+5||-10||Derek Jeter, Hanley Ramirez||0.0|
This is essentially where the stats see Hechavarria at this season. If he were among the worst shortstops in baseball, akin to out-of-position players like Ramirez or old fogeys who never had it like Jeter, then yes, Hechavarria would be a replacement-level player this year. But given Hechavarria's decent reputation, it seems unlikely that he is missing so many routine balls that the numbers bear out this way.
|-9||+5||-5||Asdrubal Cabrera, Ian Desmond||0.5|
As expected, tacking on five runs was worth about half a win. If you think Hechavarria is more like these guys, one of whom was favorably compared as a top shortstop by Baseball America, then this about where he would be so far this year. A half-win player in this many plate appearances projects to be a 0.7-win player by the end of the season. To refresh your memory, I projected Donovan Solano to be a player of that caliber before the season began.
|-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.
|-9||+5||+5||Troy Tulowitzki, Ruben Tejada||1.6|
At this level, you are talking about solidly above average shortstops. At this point, Hechavarria is at the level of a 2.1-win player by season's end, or essentially a league average talent. For us to see no improvement with a free agent addition this offseason, Hechavarria would have to be playing at this level defensively. I would hazard that it is difficult to place him as good as that.
|-9||+5||+10||Zack Cozart, Andrelton Simmons, J.J. Hardy||2.1|
This is currently where UZR rates the most elite shortstops in baseball. Those three names (and surprisingly enough, Jhonny Peralta) are some of the better regarded defenders in the game. UZR has Simmons rated a little lower than the other two this year, but if you see them as a spectrum of performance, they project as finishing the year with a 2.8-win season.
Simmons is a great example with Hechavarria, because the two of them essentially have the same batting line in 2014. Simmons's .251/.296/.352 line (.286 wOBA) has a nearly identical wRC+. The two are essentially twins at the plate thus far this year. Simmons has accrued 1.8 wins thus far according to FanGraphs in about the same number of appearances as Hechavarria. He is in line to finish with around 2.5 wins, which is around where we are saying the average elite shortstop would be with this kind of batting line. That is the high-end upside of Hechavarria if he cannot improve on his bat. And keep in mind, while this is Simmons's worst offensive season, it happens to be Hechavarria's best.
This is the spectrum of Hechavarria in 2014. If you think he is as bad as the stats say, then he is replacement-level fodder. If you think he is equivalent to the best shortstop in baseball, he is an above-average player. He needs to be around Ruben Tejada's or Tulowitzki's level defensively to reach league average status for the year. Where do you see him this season, Fish Stripers?