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2015 Miami Marlins Season Preview: Adeiny Hechavarria's defense in scouting numbers

The Marlins are depending on Adeiny Hechavarria's defense, and different sources have different views. What can a mixed scouting and statistical approach show?

Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The Miami Marlins are banking on Adeiny Hechavarria to provide a strong season for the Fish in 2015. Unfortunately for the Marlins, he has not really done that at any point in time in the last two years, having posted ugly offensive numbers both years and questionable defensive performances. While the eyes seem to peg Hechavarria as a stellar player, and his Gold Glove finalist status this past year shows that his reputation is excellent, the numbers still are mixed in support of his play.

Both sides have their problems. Scouts who make determination may only see a small number of opportunities for a given player. Marlins staff members may be biased towards a positive response for Hechavarria, and likewise they may see too much of him versus not enough of other shortstops in the league for comparison. For the Gold Glove, players are often rewarded by coaches who know them mostly by reputation with few actual reps seen. On the other hand, zone-based metrics can misinterpret the relative difficulty and classification of balls in play, leading to inherent biases that are hard to weed out.

It would be great to find a middle ground for these competing resources. To do that, I looked at a few different scouting-based sources from 2012 to 2014 and reassessed Hechavarria's defense in a way similar to the one I used in this June 2014 article. We will look at how defensive statistics have viewed former Gold Glove candidates, how the Fans Scouting Report has rated Hechavarria and similar players, and how the Inside Edge fielding data, which is based on video watching and classification, has evaluated the shortstop compared to his peers.

Gold Glove Finalists

The Gold Glove is now partially determined by defensive statistics, a change Rawlings made in 2013. That adds some inherent bias to the defensive statistics evaluating these winners. However, seeing the types of names typically involved in these races may help evaluate the cohorts that Hechavarria had last season.

Here are each of the shortstop finalists for the last three years, excluding Hechavarria, and their UZR and Baseball Prospectus FRAA numbers. Bolded names are award winners.

Year Player UZR FRAA
2012 J.J. Hardy +12 +22
2012 Elvis Andrus +8 +3
2012 Brendan Ryan +14 +12
2012 Jimmy Rollins +8 -9
2012 Zack Cozart +8 +3
2012 Ian Desmond +4 -15
2012 Jose Reyes -3 -15
2013 J.J. Hardy +6 -13
2013 Alcides Escobar +11 +0
2013 Yunel Escobar +11 -2
2013 Andrelton Simmons +25 +27
2013 Ian Desmond +4 +5
2013 Troy Tulowitzki +7 +5
2014 J.J. Hardy +14 +2
2014 Alcides Escobar +2 +0
2014 Alexei Ramirez +0 +8
2014 Andrelton Simmons +16 +10
2014 Zack Cozart +12 +7
Average Winners +14 +7
Average Competitors +7 +1
Average Overall +9 +3

The judgment of players winning Gold Glove finalist recognition is still a mixed bag. The winners have good numbers, but much of that was skewed by Andrelton Simmons's performances. If we take Simmons's two seasons and the two worst seasons out from any one given stat, the average finalist was worth eight runs above average by UZR and three runs above average by FRAA. If we make an estimate based on this, we could say that Hechavarria is somewhere between these values for his defense.

That would be better for the Marlins, as four or five runs above average would make Hechavarria about a one-win player and change. This is an improvement over this season's current expectations.

Fans Scouting Report

In three years of data from the Fans Scouting Report, the Fans have rated Hechavarria as the 12th-best shortstop among the 20 qualified big leaguers on the list. The tops and bottoms of these lists look appropriate; at the tail end are guys like Hanley Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera, while the top has Andrelton Simmons and Brandon Crawford. Hechavarria is rated as a 65 overall defender on a one to 100 scale, with the best (Simmons) at 87 and the worst (Ramirez) at 39. Hechavarria's closest competitors are Yunel Escobar and Ian Desmond, whom each earned Gold Glove finalist nominations at some point in the last three years.

FanGraphs has a calculation that estimates runs above average based on these FSR numbers. This estimate has Hechavarria as nine runs better than average in 2932 innings, which translates to about four runs better than average per season like the one he worked last year. That appears to be in line with the above estimates from the Gold Glove finalist cohorts.

Inside Edge Scouting

The Inside Edge Scouting numbers do not really have a runs conversion, but we can glean some information about just how many plays Hechavarria was making compared to the average player. If you look at the list since 2012, you will note that Hechavarria is ranked 12th in routine play percentage, with routine plays being determined by Inside Edge film watchers as plays to be made 90 to 100 percent of the time. At the top of that list is Simmons, while at the bottom is Starlin Castro.

When we look at plays made out of this routine area, it gets more murky with less data available. Since we have little idea of how difficult this should be for players, I looked at the average and standard deviation of each of both routine and combined non-routine plays made by this sample of shortstops and calculated Z-scores for each individual player. This gives us an idea of how many standard deviations a shortstop was better or worse than the average. The average shortstop made 97.6 percent of routine balls and 45.8 percent of non-routine balls.

First off, here are the five best Z-scores for routine plays, along with Hechavarria's ranking and the worst ranking for comparison.

Rank Player Routine Play% Z-score
1 Andrelton Simmons 98.7 1.79
2 Jimmy Rollins 98.5 1.48
3 Jhonny Peralta 98.4 1.33
4 J.J. Hardy 98.2 1.02
5 Yunel Escobar 98.1 0.86
7 Adeiny Hechavarria 97.8 0.39
20 Starlin Castro 96.3 -1.94

Similarly, here is the list for non-routine plays.

Rank Player Non-routine Play% Z-score
1 Andrelton Simmons 59.0 2.50
2 Alcides Escobar 53.3 1.41
3 Jean Seguera 49.8 0.75
4 J.J. Hardy 49.1 0.63
5 Brandon Crawford 49.1 0.63
8 Adeiny Hechavarria 47.3 0.27
20 Jhonny Peralta 37.1 -1.67

The tops of these lists are not surprising on either end. Andrelton Simmons is amazing. J.J. Hardy is good at everything and is probably the second-best shortstop in baseball as a result. Hechavarria's rankings should be noted, however. He ranks above average in both aspects listed, a claim only five of the listed shortstops can make. Routine plays are worth more because the volume of them is overwhelming, but with these numbers, there is at least a case to be made that Hechavarria ranks around sixth to ninth in the list of shortstops here.

Conclusions

As always, conclusions on this type of data are hard to come by, but the point here is that there is a credible case using a mix of numbers and scouting that evaluates Hechavarria as a slightly above-average defender at shortstop. This still does not equate him to Andrelton Simmons, but it leaves Miami with some hope that he can be a 1.5-win player for the team in 2015 despite the negative statistical appearance. It is still too difficult to say, but I think careful viewing of each and every ball that goes Hechavarria's way is warranted among Marlins fans.