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Hechavarria is a curious case, and has looked like a slightly different player in each of his first two full MLB seasons.
In 2013, technically his rookie season, Hechavarria was literally the worst hitter in baseball. And that’s not a biased knock against his talents; the numbers show that of all players to qualify as full-time starters, Hechavarria was the absolute least productive: he hit .227/.267/.298, good for a .251 wOBA, 53 wRC+ and 56 OPS+. The Marlins still trotted him out there for 578 plate appearances, en route to the team’s 62-100, last place record.
Then, in 2014, Hechavarria improved steadily in virtually every aspect, but still not enough to become the impact player the Marlins thought they received from the Blue Jays in 2012. Over 574 PA, Hech slashed .276/.308/.356 with a 82 wRC+ and .290 wOBA. Strangely, he actually walked less (4.5%) than in 2013, but also struck out less (15.0%) but still showed absolutely no power once again (.080 ISO).
That his numbers improved so markedly is a great sign, but the fact remains that Hechavarria has no patience at the plate, and he had a .323 BABIP (up from .270 in 2013) so a lot of it could have just been luck. The Marlins love him for his defense, but the metrics show that he is replacement-level defensively (-8.8 UZR in 2014, -9.0 in 2013) and worth a grand total of 0.6 fWAR last season.
So what does ZiPS think the Marlins incumbent shortstop will do this year?
Well, not a whole lot. Assuming he stays healthy, ZiPS gives him a career-high 623 PA, which projects to be second-most on the team behind Christian Yelich.
ZiPS projects a .260/.296/.349 line, a .280 wOBA, .089 ISO and .308 BABIP.
It sees Hechavarria striking out at a 16.7% clip and walking just 5.0% of the time. He had a surprising 84 OPS+ in 2014, and ZiPS projects a 77 OPS+ for him this year. (Remember, 100 is considered league average, and factors in the player’s home ballpark.)
He totals a projected 0.6 fWAR, an identical mark to last year.
That’s a fair amount of regression to the mean, with Hechavarria’s batting average and BABIP dipping slightly. Still, he expects to show no power once again (four home runs is the projection; he hit one last year and three in 2013) and doesn’t draw walks, at all.
Yesterday, our Dillon Murrell wrote a terrific piece examining Hechavarria’s defensive positioning and range and what could be changed to increase his defensive value. The Marlins quite possibly are keeping him as the starting shortstop because of his flashy grabs in the field, but at the end of the day his lack of range otherwise negates his production and renders him a very average commodity.
Hechavarria did improve last year in tangible, outdated areas like batting average and runs scored, and that seems to be enough for the Marlins to give him the shortstop job with little competition.
We will continue to examine the other Marlins infield player projections in the coming days.