What’s wrong with Adeiny Hechavarria?

dillonmurrell
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Adeiny Hechavarria has a polarizing reputation. In 2014, he was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop. He also rated below average (Defensive Runs Saved) to well below average (Ultimate Zone Rating). Based on reputation and watching him play shortstop, he was among the top 3 at his position in the National League. Based off defensive metrics that record run values of the plays he makes and doesn’t make, he wasn’t even close to being a Gold Glove caliber shortstop.

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So where should Adeiny Hechavarria’s name be placed in this conversation? Should he be among the elite? Or should he be somewhere very close to the bottom? The answer most likely lies somewhere in the middle since both the eye test and defensive metrics should be given equal weight. Today, I’ll try to reconcile these differing opinions of Hechavarria’s defense.

First of all, Adeiny Hechavarria has the tools to be a good defensive shortstop at the MLB level. His hands, footwork, and release are all good. He can also make those highlight reel plays that are probably the biggest reason why he has a very good reputation despite not receiving any love from defensive metrics. When merely watching with your eyes, it is hard to keep a log of all the plays he makes. Those highlight reel plays stick out and often times those are the ones that get remembered while the misplays get forgotten. The physical tools are clearly there, however, so he can be good or even great defensively at one of the hardest defensive positions.

Playing defense isn’t about making the big plays that woo fans; it’s about consistently making the plays to keep runners off base and runs off the board. Recently at Fangraphs, Jeff Zimmerman developed a stat using Inside Edge’s fielding data (which does take into account the position of the defender) called Plays Made Ratio. It compares the number of plays a defender made to the number of plays a defender would be expected to make on average and then scales it to 100, with 100 being average. It takes out impossible plays, which by definition a defender can’t make, and routine plays.

In 221 total chances of plays with a 1%-90% chance of being made, Adeiny has made plays on 104 of them, good for a 102 PMR. So by this measure, he has been about league average in terms of making possible plays. League average isn’t Gold Glove caliber, but it is good. 221 chances is well beyond the stabilization point calculated by Zimmerman, so this is basically what you should expect from Hechavarria at the very worst.

Also, in terms of making the routine plays, he has been about average. He has made 97.8% of routine plays (862 chances); average is 97.9%. He makes plays at a league average rate, so why is there a discrepancy?

As previously noted, Hechavarria does not rate well in terms of defensive metrics that measure how many runs a defender saves. UZR has him at -18.4 runs over 2706 innings, which translates to a UZR/150 of -9.2 runs. UZR is mostly down on his range, pegging his range runs at -20 over his career. Defensive Runs Saved is kinder to him, rating him at -4 runs saved over his career but giving him “credit” for -6 runs over the last two years.

There has to be a reason for this. Hechavarria is physically able to play a good shortstop and even makes plays at a league average rate. Why do run-based defensive metrics frown upon him?

The answer is actually something we’ve heard once before. A year ago, the Marlins talked about Hechavarria’s inability to go to his right (-16 DRS on balls to his right) and how they need to position him better. In 2014, they seemingly did nothing about it considering he was worth -13 DRS on balls to his right. The issue still seems to be as simple as positioning.

Having the physical tools to be a great defensive shortstop doesn’t automatically make you one just like great bat speed doesn’t automatically make you a great hitter. The Marlins and Adeiny Hechavarria still need to learn how he should be properly positioned so that his tools will finally play in games.

There is further evidence that positioning is the issue. In 2014, the Miami Marlins were the only team in baseball to actually be worth negative runs on their shifts. Their shifts, in the aggregate, were worth -7 runs. Next worse were the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees tied at zero runs. This means the Marlins just are not putting their defenders in the right places and it’s showing.

There’s nothing physically wrong with Adeiny Hechavarria. Despite poor positioning, he still makes plays at a league average rate. With good positioning, he could be well above average, as well as saving runs at an average or better rate. An average defensive shortstop with his bat is something close to a league average player and if the Marlins can turn a weak spot on their roster into a good player just by making him stand in a different spot before the ball is hit then those postseason hopes will look a little bit more realistic.

Baseball is a game of making adjustments. Hitters and pitchers aren’t the only ones that have to make adjustments; fielders are also required to do so to extract every bit of value they can from what they can do physically. Even if you don’t want to cite defensive metrics, Jhonny Peralta is the starting shortstop on a St. Louis Cardinals team that is projected to be the fifth best team in baseball. He doesn’t receive the same praise for his tools, but the Cardinals still liked him enough to sign him through 2017 (his age 35 season).

If Adeiny Hechavarria and the Marlins take a page out Peralta’s book, we could be looking at a shortstop truly deserving of winning a Gold Glove or two.

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