I’ve been putting off the last couple of articles in this series for awhile now, opening and closing them after I noticed some things I’d really have to dig deep into and suddenly found I didn’t have the time I thought I did to work on them. Ah, the complications of being a baseball blogger. 2016 is gone, however, and now that 2017 projections are beginning to emerge, it’s high time to wrap up last season’s reviews.
The conundrum of an Adeiny Hechavarria evaluation is that any serious breakdown of his positives and negatives has to come with a thorough examination of the man’s defense. As many Marlins fans are aware, Hech’s defensive prowess has been much debated over the years, as some sabermetric measures have graded him out poorly in the past, while coaches and teammates rave about his ability.
A pertinent quote from Jeff Sullivan’s linked 2014 article above:
“I think two statements could be true:
1. Adeiny Hechavarria has elite-level talent
2. Adeiny Hechavarria has yet to put together an elite-level performance”
In 2015, Hechavarria finally came up with an “elite-level performance” on the field, putting up +15.8 UZR and +9 DRS (this reads as, according to UZR and DRS, Hech being +15 runs and +9 runs better than the league average shortstop, respectively). Hech had the 2nd best DEF rating (21.6) amongst shortstops, trailing only the rightfully lauded Andrelton Simmons. Though he may not have ultimately captured a Gold Glove, he was certainly deserving of being in the conversation.
Combine that performance with the .281/.315/.374 batting line he was able to muster, and the Marlins had a 3.1 fWAR player on their hands and what appeared to be sound justification for the faith they had placed in Hechavarria as a starting shortstop in this league.
Unfortunately, in 2016 Hech’s numbers, particularly on the offensive side, took a turn for the worse. Hechavarria’s overall numbers backslid, resulting in a .236/.283/.311 triple slash line and a -27.8 offensive fWAR contribution. This appears to be largely a luck-based result as his BABIP of .269 was significantly lower than his career average of .297, and substantially lower than the .324 he averaged between 2014-2015. This should allow for some optimism as the number is likely to trend upward toward his career norm, as a few of his other peripherals remained stable (hard/soft contact rate, k/walk rate among them). Hech is also entering the prototypical baseball prime at age 28 heading into 2017, so there’s no real reason to believe the singularly downward slash line of 2016 is the beginning of a real decline.
Another reason to not be so caught up in Hech’s offensive performance last season is that his real value is tied up in his superior defense. UZR graded him out at +8.3 runs better than the average shortstop last season, but DRS had him as exactly the same at +9 runs above average. FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average), Baseball Prospectus’ stat that attempts to measure defensive value, also recorded a drop in production from +6.2 runs above average to +2.6 runs.
So, what really changed between 2015 and 2016 in the field for Hechavarria?
Inside Edge data (in this instance, harvested from the ever helpful Fangraphs) shows how often a particular player makes plays, ranging in difficulty from “certain” to “impossible,” and then compares said player to his peers. Below is Hech’s “missed plays” from 2015-2016:
Amongst plays in which the average shortstop was “likely” (60-90%) to make, Hech made 87% in 2015 but only 72% in 2016. In the “even” (40-60%) category, Hech also lost production, falling from 71.4% plays made to 60% plays made.
The only other real dip came in the form of Hechavarria’s RngR rating, falling from +9.8 runs in 2015 to +5.2 runs in 2016. As you may have guessed, RngR attempts to isolate a player’s range from other factors and put a number on how many runs below or above average a player is in relation to his peers at the position. RngR is also a key component in the formula that is used to come up with UZR and may help explain the drop Hechavarria experienced in said number between 2015 and 2016.
So what should we be taking from these numbers? If you believe in their validity as measurements, you could rightfully say that Hech went from a great defender in 2015 to merely good in 2016, and an acceptable bat to a sub-par one.
We have enough data on-hand to tell us what Adeiny Hechavarria is: A light-hitting plus defender. In a lineup full of what should be plus-bats, he should continue to function, overall, as an asset to the Marlins.