The Miami Marlins saw what Adeiny Hechavarria did to improve his game in 2014 and doubled down on their efforts to hold onto him. They offered him a long-term extension, only to see him inexplicably decline a deal. They committed fully to Hechavarria as the team's shortstop in 2015 and seemingly beyond, despite all of the remaining question marks about his ability at the plate and on the field.
Questions be damned. Hechavarria will play almost every game at shortstop for the Marlins this year. What can we expect in his third year in the league?
1. Adeiny Hechavarria
2. Donovan Solano
Minor League Depth: Reid Brignac, Austin Nola
The Marlins saw Hechavarria's batting average bounce back from a horrific 2013 season to more than respectable levels. He managed a .323 BABIP and maintained a solid 22 percent line drive rate en route to a .276/.308/.356 line (.290 wOBA). The problem is that the Marlins likely saw that line appear more like this:
rather than like this:
In other words, the Marlins visualized the least analytically-important numbers (which fits their profile) and made decisions based on that. Never mind the fact that, the year before, Hechavarria hit .270 on balls in play and posted one of the worst batting lines in recent memory. It would not surprise any Marlins fans to hear that the team's brass drew a trendline from Hechavarria's batting average in 2013 to the one in 2014 and extrapolated an increase because of his young age.
The rest of Hechavarria's numbers, the more important on-base and slugging percentages, are almost entirely dependent on his batting average. Hechavarria has held a long track record of poor plate discipline, so expecting him to be more selective to draw walks would be unlikely. Last year, he upped his swing rate back up to nearly 55 percent, which ranked eighth in the majors among qualified players. It is worth noting that the seven guys above him either had power (Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez) or did not hit well (Salvador Perez) or did worse than that (Chris Johnson).
Hechavarria took a more focused approach to try and "drive" the ball last season, and that likely dispelled any chances of him developing actual power. While his swing always looked promising for developing future pop, his best approach right now simply does not lend to it. Hechavarria never showed pop in the minors either, so it is not as though he has a track record for it.
Photo by Steve Mitchell, USA Today Sports
No, Hechavarria's bat is pretty much settled as mediocre at best and scary-bad at worst. Where he will make his living, and what the Marlins are counting on, is his defensive play. Hechavarria was a Gold Glove finalist this past season, and at least one advanced defensive metric (Baseball Prospectus's FRAA, which notably does not use zones) rated him highly positively. But both DRS and UZR had him as below average to various degrees, which goes against the common thought that the slick-fielding shortstop is among the best in the game.
Which side is the truth? It is nearly impossible to tell at this stage. By the looks of things, Hechavarria appears to be an elite defender, with smooth handles and the ability to make difficult plays look easy. At the same time, our own biases combined with the fact that evaluating defense as a fan is difficult make it easier for us to forget plays that should be his responsibility but appeared to be "out of reach" for him. It is much harder to determine his defensive play when you consider that, as fans, we are not watching a lot of other shortstops to compare.
You can see that the projection systems see a terrible offensive player for 2015. None of them expect him to reach the .290 wOBA he posted last season. They are all seeing him hit his career strikeout and walk rates, but they are expecting an understandable regression in his BABIP; each system is expecting a mark between .298 and .310, which is where most players lie. Given his career .299 mark, this is a more than reasonable expectation; BABIP is not something that gets better with age, so any improvement on batting average really needs to come from a decrease in strikeout rate. Hechavarria just has not shown any propensity for this.
The overall line averages out to .253/.290/.337 at the plate, which equates to maybe a .277 wOBA. This is a little better than his career numbers, which makes sense given him improvement from last season. Still, it is a terrible batting line; since 2012, shortstops have averaged about a .254/.308/.368 batting line that lines up with about 13 percent worse than the league average. That .277 wOBA would be closer to 25 percent worse than league average in that time frame.
Hechavarria's defense is going to be key to this projection. As we mentioned before, his expectations can vary widely depending on what you peg his fielding value at. Most of the metrics have him as below average or worse, but the eyes clearly point him to being better than that. In the middle ground are two scouting-based systems, the Fans Scouting Report and the Inside Edge Fielding reports. According to the Fans' own estimations, Hechavarria ranks right next to guys like Ian Desmond, Yunel Escobar, and Jose Reyes defensively. If you look at UZR for those three players, they average out to about one run below average per season.
According to the Inside Edge Fielding reports, Hechavarria at least appears closer to average or a bit above average compared to other shortstops. He ranks 12th among shortstops in getting to "routine" plays that are made 90 to 100 percent of the time. He is slightly above average at getting to non-routine balls as well.
If we take all of that information, what is our best guess for Hechavarria? Averaging everything out, I think our safest bet is an average defensive season at shortstop. Combine that with his 16 runs worse than average offensively makes for a 0.7-win player in 2015. That is still a little less than win for a player whom the team expects to be a "cornerstone" of the franchise. Unless Hechavarria starts showing evidence of agreement for his defensive play, it may be tough to consider him a positive contributor.