Shortstop. Arguably the toughest position to play on a baseball diamond. For the past three years, Adeiny Hechavarria has made a career of playing it not only well but spectacularly. However, due to an apparent dismal season with the bat this year, not even a young career full of dazzling plays and highlight reel catches has been enough to stop people from calling for the replacement of Hech next season.
Hechavarria came to the Marlins as part of the blockbuster 11 player trade in 2012 that also brought Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Yunel Escobar, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis and Justin Nicolino to the Fish in return for Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck. He joined the National League after making his Major League debut with the Blue Jays in 2012. He began flashing his plus plus glove that earned him top 10 organizational prospect honors in each of 2009, 2010 and 2011 by becoming a plus DRS player (+2) and a plus dWAR player over his first 114 innings played at short. Curiously, though, Hech saw more time at second base during his cup of coffee (156 innings), a spot which he had only played a total of 17 games and 142.2 innings at coming up and even saw time at third base a position which he had never played before in his career. Perhaps the Blue Jays were attempting to feel out exactly what they had in Hechavarria as a defender or perhaps they were trying to play him off as a multiple position defenseman. In any event, this may have hurt Hech’s overall defensive game and set him back a considerable amount.
This proved to possibly be true in 2013, Hech’s first year with the Marlins and his first year as a full-time pro starter. Playing in 1291.1 innings as Miami’s primary shortstop, Hech placed sixth from the bottom of the league with a -3 DRS. His 15 errors that year were by far a team high and tied him for sixth most among MLB shortstops.
Even with a pretty dismal rookie year under his belt, there was little worry that Hech wouldn’t eventually grow in to his skillset. Perhaps the mismanagement by the Jays went a bit deeper than had been apparent.
Then 2014 happened when an even worse defensive year for Hech unfolded. Then, in a comparable 1294.2 innings, he again posted a -3 DRS, a lowly .763 revised zone rating and committed another 14 errors (second most on the Marlins). His ability to contribute to double plays took a nosedive that year too, as, for the first time in his career, he was worse than the league average player at turning them (3 runs worse to be exact). As a result of his first three seasons in the bigs, Hechavarria, a -4 career DRS player, including -6 in his first two full years, a total of 31 errors on his record, and a very subpar .776 RZR, Hech was the second worst shortstop in baseball from 2012-2014 based upon Fangraphs’ very reliable Def formula which sums up a player’s defensive value by adding together runs above or below average adjusted to that player’s position. Over the aforementioned three year span, Hech was a -4.5 in that metric. Accordingly, although Hech would occasionally flash his in-grown skills by making a spectacular play, the excuse that the Jays moving him around the field hindered him was no longer valid and it didn’t appear he was in any way shape or form capable of becoming the kind of defender scouts predicted him to become over the course of a full season.
However, even with two straight full seasons of below average defensive ball behind him, with every metric seemingly working against him and even finding him as one of the worst at the position in the league, the Marlins’ brass stayed committed to Hechavarria. Not only that, they still took to calling him one of the best at the position even though statistical evidence proved exactly the opposite. In 2013, Perry Hill, one of the most respected infield gurus of all time, even blamed himself for Hech’s subpar play.
“I guess the numbers don’t lie,” Hill told a local newspaper that offseason. “I need to do a better job getting him in the right place, bottom line. I saw a lot of good shortstops. I didn’t see anyone that was any better than him.”
In 2014, after Hechavarria’s even worse season, Hill again threw away stats in favor of what he physically sees out of him.
“They’ve got all these fancy numbers you measure stuff by and I guess I’m just a dinosaur,” Hill said during that year. “I go by what I see. I know what my eyes see and my eyes tell me he’s an elite shortstop.”
A few months after Hill made that comment, the 2015 season started. One hundred and sixty-two games later, it ended and finally, to a resounding “I told you so” from the Marlins’ front office and coaches including Bone, the numbers matched what they were observing. That season, in 1,120.1 innings, Hech posted a +9 DRS, fourth best in baseball and he limited his error count to nine, which tied him for fourth fewest in baseball. His RZR was the best in the game and he was 1.4 runs above average on double plays. All of that accompanied by his Def metric of 21.6, he was the second best overall shortstop in the game.
This year, Hechavarria is proving that his 2015 season in the field was no fluke. Through 147 games, although he has taken a bit of a stumble as of late, the error count is a bit more profund (12 so far) and he is almost right at replacement level when it comes to turning double plays (-0.1 DPR), Hech’s name is again present in the top 10 of the leaderboards of every other reliable defense metric. His +10 DRS ranks sixth, his .844 RZR ranks third, his 14.7 Def ranks ninth.
So, the long story short on Hechavarria defensively is that after being one of the worst gloves at shortstop through the first two seasons of his career, he has suddenly become one of the best which the Marlins seem to have always knew he would.
Now let’s look at the other side of the ball. Offensively, the story has been quite the opposite for Hechavarria. Rather than struggling his first few years before realizing his full potential, Hech improved at the plate slash line wise with each passing full year only to seemingly sink into mediocrity faster than a Clayton Kershaw curveball.
In his first full big league season, Hechavarria, by way of a .565 OPS, a 15% K rate, a -1.7 oWAR and a -34 Off, another Fangraphs metric which accounts for both batting and base running above average, Hech was the second worst offensive shortstop in baseball. However, rookies will be rookies.
The next two years were much kinder to Hech. From 2014-2015, he hit a combined .278/.311/.365, which made him the fourth best for-average hitting shortstop in ball over that span. However, the K rate stayed constant at 15.3% and it came via a heightened .324 BABIP, second highest among all of the MLB’s shortstops
This year, his BABIP has fallen back down to .270, a figure which is slightly low but is more realistically in line with the 2016 major league shortstop’s average BABIP of .290. On the surface, that would normally mean this year’s version of Hechavarria is a more pragmatic example of what we can expect from him going forward. And it isn’t good. In fact, Hech has been so bad numbers wise that he is barely hitting better than he did in his rookie season when he hit .227/.267/.298 and his BABIP was .270, the exact same it is right now. His -28.8 Off rating is dead last in baseball among shortstops as is his .312 SLG. His .237 BA and .312 OBP are both third worst. Based on these facts alone, no matter how good his defense is, willingly making a spot in the lineup a black hole to this affect (a a very, very, deep and dark black hole) is simply unsustainable and something must be done about Hechavarria and the shortstop position this offseason.
But if we look at Hechavarria a little bit closer, things don’t appear to be as bad as they seem. In fact, it is mind-boggling and seemingly impossible that he could be where he is offensively.
Firstly, let’s take a peek at his plate vision and patience. This season, Hech’s strikeout rate has improved quite a bit from seasons past. Whereas he used to be a perennial strikeout victim in 15% of his ABs, he is now only K’ing at a 13.6%. He’s also posted a 6.2% walk rate which is a career best. He is also making contact at a career high rate of 86%, including 91% of the time he swings at balls inside the zone. Both of those figures are well above the league averages of 86% and 78% respectively. When he does swing at balls outside of the zone, it appears he isn’t going fishing that far. In those situations, he is putting bat to ball 76.9% of the time, also well over the league average (63.9%). Overall, he is only swinging and missing pitches 6.7% of the time, by far a career best and far improved from 9.9% as early as last season. All of this together proves Hech has vastly improved his knowledge of the strike zone.
|2012||Blue Jays||36.7 %||69.5 %||52.2 %||74.7 %||84.6 %||80.9 %||47.4 %||70.1 %||10.0 %|
|2012||Average||30.3 %||64.7 %||45.6 %||66.8 %||87.2 %||79.6 %||44.4 %||59.8 %||9.2 %|
|2013||Marlins||36.0 %||66.2 %||49.5 %||77.3 %||90.4 %||85.1 %||44.6 %||62.5 %||7.3 %|
|2013||Average||30.4 %||65.5 %||45.9 %||66.5 %||87.0 %||79.4 %||44.2 %||60.2 %||9.4 %|
|2014||Marlins||38.5 %||73.2 %||54.8 %||75.5 %||88.4 %||83.6 %||47.1 %||66.7 %||8.9 %|
|2014||Average||30.7 %||65.7 %||46.2 %||65.7 %||87.3 %||79.3 %||44.3 %||60.6 %||9.5 %|
|2015||Marlins||34.6 %||70.6 %||51.9 %||74.5 %||87.2 %||82.8 %||48.1 %||65.1 %||8.8 %|
|2015||Average||30.6 %||66.9 %||46.9 %||64.9 %||86.7 %||78.8 %||44.7 %||60.9 %||9.9 %|
|2016||Marlins||34.0 %||67.8 %||50.3 %||76.9 %||91.6 %||86.4 %||48.1 %||60.3 %||6.7 %|
|2016||Average||30.3 %||66.7 %||46.5 %||63.9 %||86.3 %||78.2 %||44.7 %||60.2 %||10.1 %|
And all of that sounds great. But it doesn’t mean anything if he can’t make solid contact, right? Well, he is. Across the board of his batted ball stats, Hech is hitting the ball at career best rates. His line drive percentage of 22.1% is seventh best among shortstops and well over the average of 20.5%. According to Baseball Info Solutions, he is making soft contact on just 19% of the pitches he touches and medium contact on 47% balls he comes into contact with. His hard contact rate of 33.1% is by far a career high. 2016 marks the first year of his career he’s ever been above league average in that metric.
|2012||Blue Jays||1.55||21.3 %||47.9 %||30.9 %||3.4 %||6.9 %||6.7 %||16.7 %||43.0 %||35.0 %||22.0 %||10.0 %||66.0 %||24.0 %|
|2013||Marlins||1.86||20.4 %||51.8 %||27.8 %||11.4 %||2.4 %||5.7 %||20.0 %||33.2 %||39.2 %||27.7 %||19.9 %||57.7 %||22.3 %|
|2014||Marlins||2.26||22.3 %||53.9 %||23.9 %||5.7 %||1.0 %||7.2 %||30.0 %||26.3 %||39.6 %||34.1 %||17.8 %||54.8 %||27.4 %|
|2015||Marlins||1.78||20.3 %||51.0 %||28.6 %||8.2 %||4.5 %||6.6 %||75.0 %||30.3 %||38.6 %||31.1 %||19.9 %||55.3 %||24.7 %|
|2016||Marlins||1.58||22.1 %||47.7 %||30.2 %||3.3 %||2.5 %||7.4 %||0.0 %||29.1 %||38.3 %||32.6 %||19.0 %||47.9 %||33.1 %|
Low and behold, where we were once asking ourselves, “Just exactly what kind of defensive player is Hechavarria?” only to see him grow into one of the game’s absolute bests, here we are a few years later asking ourselves, “Just what kind of offensive player is Hechavarria?”
In line with that, if Hechavarria is striking out a career low rate, walking at a career best rate, making some sort of contact on more than the league average amount of pitches he swings at, and is hitting the ball harder than he ever has in his career, why does he find himself owning a horrific .237/.283/.312 slash line with a handful of games left to be played?
While the answer isn’t simple (just as nothing regarding Hechavarria ever has been), the only explanation possible is his BABIP, which is 20 points lower than the league average, is 50 points lower than either BABIP he posted in his two full seasons previous, and is very nearly the only advanced stat that is working against him. Many will argue that a .320-something BABIP for a guy like Hech who has very little power to speak of is nearly impossible for him to post on an annual basis. But, again, with as good an eye as he has ever had and making the best contact he ever has, I argue that is is sustainable and that the version of Hech we saw slash line wise over the last two years previous to this one is more in line with the kind of hitter he is, a .270-.280 for-average bat. Due to the improved walk ratio and better contact rates, I see Hech capable of OBPing in the .330-.340 neighborhood. For a guy that provides the kind of defense Hech does, that is all that should be asked of him at the plate.
In turn, I contend this season for Hech is nothing but a run of bad luck and frustration for a guy swinging a very good shortstop’s bat by way of a great approach. Having just turned the magical age of 27, it would be a mistake for the Marlins to give up on him right now.