The Miami Marlins have held onto Adeiny Hechavarria for each of the previous two seasons mostly on the back of his defense. They insisted that Hechavarria was a Gold Glove defender at shortstop and, as a result, have tolerated his bat. From 2013 through 2014, among the 18 shortstops with at least 1000 plate appearances, only one (Zack Cozart) hit worse than Hechavarria's .251/.287/.327 (.271 wOBA) batting line. However, Hechavarria did hit better in 2014 than he did in 2013, batting .276/.308/.356 (.290 wOBA), and he carried that batting line into 2015 as well.
Of course, he also carried one of the best gloves, both by the eye test and by the advanced numbers, in all of baseball.
If it were not for the myriad of injuries Hechavarria suffered during the 2015 season, he would probably be in line for an All-Star caliber year based on his defense. By almost all defensive metrics, he excelled. He produced the second-most runs among shortstops by UZR at +15 runs compared to average, behind only Andrelton Simmons. He put up the fourth-best year by DRS. He ranked fifth by Baseball Prospectus's FRAA. Of all the shortstops on the three metric lists, only Simmons and Brandon Crawford appear in all of the top five, making those two the best competitors for Hechavarria for the Gold Glove crown.
Hechavarria has been working with infield coach Perry Hill for three years now, and it is possible that the defensive positioning pre-play has finally kicked in for him. For years, Hechavarria's glove side had been a problem, and his positioning may finally have helped solve this. He simply got to more balls this year than he had in the past according to the metrics. BIS data shows that Hechavarria flagged down 83.3 percent of all balls in play in his "zone of responsibility," which led all shortstops. He also excelled at avoiding errors, as he posted the fifth-best error runs among shortstops this year according to UZR. He cut his errors down from 11 per 1000 innings played down to eight per 1000 innings.
It is one thing to be sure-handed, but it is another thing entirely to be sure-handed and rangy. Many players can be sure-handed without getting to nearly enough balls; witness the talk about Casey McGehee's defense in 2014. But when you can get to everything like Hechavarria did in 2015 and commit fewer errors, there is real value in his defensive play. For the first time in his career, all of the advanced metrics judged him as a highly positive contributor.
You do not need to hit much when you post Gold Glove seasons on the field, but Hechavarria at least maintained his 2014 level of hitting as well. Once again, he defied odds by hitting .325 on balls in play and carrying what was otherwise another popless and walk-less year at the plate. He kept the exact strikeout and walk rates that he posted last season despite dropping his swing rate slightly. He also made slightly less contact this year overall. His saving grace and the thing that made his line slightly better was his light power boost. He nearly cracked a .100 ISO with his five-homer campaign. Hechavarria did not add any gap power, as his rate of doubles and triples per non-homer hit actually fell to 18 percent from 20 percent last year, but it is possible that he simply converted a few more gap shots into homers in 2015.
Either way, it was a light improvement overall in his batting line, which still remained ugly. However, for a shortstop in this depressed run environment, it may very well have been just enough. Hechavarria finally reached a league average batting line for shortstops; his .281/.315/.374 line nearly perfectly matches the overall shortstop line of .256/.307/.375 (.297 wOBA). Out of the 32 shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances, his wRC+ of 86 ranked a perfectly down-the -middle 17th.
The Marlins finally got the best season out of Hechavarria, so it was a shame that he actually missed more than the usual amount of time. The Fish lost out on an extra 15 games from Hechavarria, who usually manages a full campaign at around 145 games. Given his average Wins Above Replacement, one would have expected him to put up a almost a three-win season had he gotten to his usual 570 plate appearances and 145 games. That is a drastic improvement over the near-replacement level play we have received since he debuted in 2013.
The Marlins finally got the season they wanted out of Hechavarria, complete with numerical evidence of his elite glove. He maintained a serviceable batting line and stepped up his range game en route to a strong season that has even skeptics like me looking for more.