Do the Marlins have the best defensive middle infield in the National League East?


The acquisition of Dee Gordon to man second base for the Miami Marlins has at least one person super excited for the 2015 season. In a recent comment on Twitter, columnist Joe Frisaro opined that the Marlins may now have the best middle infield combo in the National League East, as seen below:

That’s a pretty brazen and generalized statement for a respected columnist to make, even for Twitter. Needless to say, he received a bit of jabbing from followers that didn’t necessarily agree with his opinion on the matter.

With that in mind, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a look at how the Marlins combination of Adeiny Hechavarria and Dee Gordon rank against their counterparts within the division. Today we’ll examine the fielding side of the game, something that many feel the Marlins will greatly improve on with the addition of Gordon.

For the sake of examination, the following players will be used:

Miami Marlins – Adeiny Hechavarria (SS) and Dee Gordon (2B)
Atlanta Braves – Andrelton Simmons (SS) and Alberto Callaspo (2B)
New York Mets – Wilmer Flores (SS) and Daniel Murphy (2B)
Washington National – Ian Desmond (SS) and Danny Espinosa (2B)
Philadelphia Philiies – Freddy Galvis (SS) and Chase Utley (2B)

Additionally, I am going to be basing the examination on combined scores for the following categories:

UZR/150 – Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games played
DRS – Defensive Runs Saved Above Average
rGFP – Good Fielding Plays Runs Saved Above Average
rPM – Plus/Minus Runs Saved Above Average
DPR – Double Play Runs Saved Above Average
ErrR – Error Runs Above Average

With that said, we’re going to base this study on the 2014 results only. Given the aging curve of ballplayers and the flux of having different double-play partners from year to year, I felt this was more fair than the sum of a player’s efforts. Baseball is after-all a “what have you done for me lately” business.

So with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the results.

[table id=74 /]

Needless to say, Mr. Frisaro is a little off-base in his claim, at least from a defensive aspect. While Hechavarria makes some solid run-saving plays and excels at the routine stops, ultimately the Marlins ratings are dragged down by a major lack of range by both Hechevarria and Gordon. Additionally, Gordon struggled defensively nearly across the board in 2014 (could we have just swapped Andrew Heaney for Howie Kendrick?).

Based on the statistics analyzed, the Marlins could in fact have the worst defensive middle infield in the division, trailing even the Philadelphia Phillies, who will run out the miscast Freddy Galvis as the full-time shortstop in 2014, and the New York Mets, who rely on Daniel Murphy more for his bat that his work in the field. With such suspect defense in the infield for the Marlins(only Martin Prado has a positive UZR/150 at 8.2 in 2014), you’d almost want to build the team on fly ball pitchers who could take advantage of the defensive outfield and spacious ballpark.

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As you can see in the table, the crown ultimately belongs to the Braves, who score exceedingly well across the board. Granted, a lot of that is weighted very heavily by the wizardry of Andrelton Simmons, as Alberto Callaspo profiles much better defensively at 3rd base than he does in the middle of the infield given his range and mobility. Still, even being dragged down by Callaspo, Simmons did more than enough on his own to propel the Braves to wins nearly across the board.

The only categories that the Braves didn’t take home was Double Play Runs Saved and Error Runs Saved. The DPR win goes to the Washington Nationals, who have a solid defensive double-play combo in Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, although it remains to be seen if the Nats trust Espinosa’s bat enough or if they bring in a replacement there. The ErrR category belongs the Phillies, who have perhaps the best defensive second baseman in the division in Chase Utley (UZR/150 of 8.5 and DRS of 3), although it also remains to be seen if Galvis can handle full-time duties and provide adequate defense.

Needless to say, defensive metrics weren’t the kindest to the Marlins duo of Gordon and Hechavarria, and as an extension the claim by Frisaro. That’s a bit disappointing given the defensive reputation of Hech when the Marlins acquired him from the Blue Jays and the speed of Gordon. However, there are two sides to this argument and we’ll take a look at the pair’s skill with the bat in comparison to their divisional counterparts tomorrow.

Perhaps the offensive game will be a bit more favorable to the Marlins when we examine that on Sunday.