Throughout this season, I have been reminiscing about the 1997 Florida Marlins. (You can find installments of the series here, here and here, with a new one dropping next week.) In the 20 years since that championship, this franchise has undergone regime changes, roster overhauls and even a re-branding, but there’s generally been continuity at the shortstop position.
The Fish broke from that tradition yesterday in trading away Adeiny Hechavarria after finally accepting the harsh reality about his limitations.
President of baseball operations Michael Hill tried to frame this move as a response to the “emergence” of JT Riddle. Just as Alex Gonzalez held down the shortstop job from late 1998 to 2005 and Hanley Ramirez starred there the following six summers, maybe Riddle can stick around long term?
Honestly, though, this was more about moving on from a one-dimensional player while the market still had an appetite for him.
Acquired in the stunning salary dump/culture reset after the 2012 season, Hechavarria was arguably the centerpiece of the haul returning to Miami—a Pacific Coast League All-Star and a Cuban defector who local fans could connect with on a personal level. He impressed manager Mark Redmond and infield coach Perry Hill during 2013 spring training, and said all the right things to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald:
“For me, there’s no comparison to [Jose] Reyes,” Hechavarria said. “He’s a great player. I’ve always admired him ever since I was in Cuba. I used to watch him and Jeter on DVDs. They have tremendous talent. If I can play as good as [Reyes] or not, that doesn’t matter to me. I’m just going to go out and try to be the best I can.”
Hech only batted .183/.254/.283 in 21 exhibition games after producing a .254/.280/.365 slash line (71 wRC+) in his major league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays the previous year. Despite that, the Marlins didn’t hesitate to insert him into a starting role immediately.
The aggressive assignment was understandable, considering he already had an MLB-ready glove. Hechavarria’s Double-A manager Luis Rivera said he “just needs to develop his swing” and “be more selective at the plate,” via Steve Kornacki of The Globe and Mail. There was More of the same at the Triple-A level, with the National Post’s John Lott noting that “some scouts still question his ability to hit in the majors.”
SPOILER ALERT: Hechavarria didn’t develop his swing; he didn’t become more selective at the plate; scouts (and analysts of all backgrounds) still question his ability to hit in the majors. Now 28 years old, the Marlins had no reason to believe these adjustments were ever going to happen.
To illustrates these issues, let’s compare Hechavarria’s body of work since 2013 with those of all other MLB players to receive at least 1,000 plate appearances. That’s casting a wide net to include inconsistent journeymen and even aging veterans who are now retired. Yet we find this once-coveted prospect disappointing across several offensive categories:
- Ranks 307th out of 317 players in Isolated Power (.081 ISO). That’s comparable to Dee Gordon (.079 ISO) over the same period, but without the baserunning ability to advance himself into scoring position. Too often, Hechavarria reached first base and was stranded there.
- Ranks 38th out of 317 players in swing percentage (51.7 Swing%). Aggressiveness isn’t always a negative—Nolan Arenado (52.0 Swing%) and Freddie Freeman (51.6 Swing%) surround him on this leaderboard. However, Hechavarria couldn’t be trusted to make the right decisions. The league as a whole is dominant on the first pitch of a plate appearance (.953 OPS in 2017), pulling the trigger when recognizing an opportunity to get the barrel on the ball. Meanwhile, his first-pitch production as a Marlin (.709 OPS) was only slightly better than what he did overall (.628 OPS).
- Ranks 284th out of 317 players in walk rate (5.0 BB%). Also, keep in mind that this was inflated by frequently batting eighth in the lineup, directly ahead of the pitcher (17 of 113 total walks were intentional). When opponents struggle with their control, sometimes the best approach is leaving the bat on your shoulders and letting them defeat themselves. Hechavarria rarely did that.
- Ranks tied for 31st out of 317 players in double plays grounded into (69 GDP). Most of those ahead of him had more plate appearances, with slowpokes Billy Butler and Matt Holliday being the only exceptions. Hechavarria consistently made contact with the Marlins, but he also reminded fans—again and again and again—that the only outcome more deflating than a strikeout is a twin killing.
Of course, any summation of Hech’s tenure with the Fish would be incomplete without acknowledging his spectacular defense.
The combination of instincts and athleticism made him a human highlight reel. He totaled 11 Defensive Runs Saved since 2013 and spent 5,083 2⁄3 innings at shortstop, second only to Brandon Crawford in the National League.
That continuity was important, but ideally, a team wants more all-around impact out of its everyday players. After patiently waiting for Hechavarria to realize that potential, the Marlins front office has handed the keys to JT Riddle. Hopefully, he’ll take us all on a long and enjoyable ride.