How Can We Make Sense of Adeiny Hechavarria?

There’s a regular shortstop in the National League you probably don’t think about very often. The Marlins, though, think about Adeiny Hechavarria very often, and they happen to think very much of him. Which, of course, is implied by his still being a regular shortstop, but Hechavarria’s coming off a weekend in which he made some more dynamite defensive plays, and Jarred Cosart went and took himself to Twitter late Saturday:

Cosart isn’t just in it to build himself and his teammates up. And this is a sentiment we’ve heard before from the organization. From November 2013:

[Michael] Hill was befuddled as to how Hechavarria wasn’t among the three finalists for the Gold Glove award, a prize that went to Braves’ counterpart Andrelton Simmons over Ian Desmond and Troy Tulowitzki.

From just the other day:

“They’ve got all these fancy numbers you measure stuff by and I guess I’m just a dinosaur,” [Perry] Hill said. “I go by what I see. I know what my eyes see and my eyes tell me he’s an elite shortstop.”

The Marlins are big believers in Hechavarria, from the front office on down to the players on the field. Those are opinions that can’t just be ignored, because the Marlins have repeated the point time and time again. To them, defensively speaking, Hechavarria’s nothing short of elite. So why don’t we talk about Hechavarria like he’s defensively elite?

Here is Hechavarria’s latest amazing play, preserving a tie score in extra innings over the weekend:

Hechavarria2

There’s no denying that took an extraordinary effort. There’s no denying that probably should’ve been the last play of the game. So, there’s no denying that Hechavarria made a special play, requiring some special talents. Hechavarria is no stranger to turning in a jaw-dropper from time to time:

Hechavarria1

You can see the skills, just from those two plays alone. The problem is everything else. I don’t know if you’re comfortable thinking of defensive stats as evidence, but the Marlins think one thing, and it’s pretty hard to find support that isn’t just anecdotal.

Last year, over a full season, Hechavarria came out as below-average by UZR. This year, it’s the same picture, as UZR penalizes Hechavarria for what it interprets as mediocre range.

Last year, over a full season, Hechavarria came out as below-average by DRS. This year, it’s the same picture, as DRS penalizes Hechavarria for what it interprets as mediocre range.

Those are the most advanced numbers. But we can pull back and consider a variety of data points. Have you ever taken a look at RZR? Hechavarria’s made a below-average number of plays in his zone, for a shortstop. He’s been about exactly average out of his zone. The Marlins have allowed baseball’s second-highest BABIP on groundballs, and while that doesn’t really isolate the shortstop position, they’re also below average on grounders hit vaguely to the shortstop’s area. The advanced numbers don’t see enough plays. The more simple numbers don’t see enough plays.

Why don’t we leave some room for opinion? Obviously, the Marlins think Hechavarria’s fantastic. But according to the Baseball America tools survey, managers think Simmons, Tulowitzki, and Desmond are the best defensive shortstops in the National League. They think those same three guys have the best infield arms. A year ago, managers said the exact same thing, to say nothing of where Hechavarria might stand against American Leaguers. And just for good measure, here’s a compliment about somebody else:

Manager Bryan Price, without being asked, put in the word for Cozart recently when he said, “When it comes time to vote for Gold Gloves I hope Zack’s name comes into play. To me, he might be the best defensive shortstop in the league.”

The Marlins believe very strongly in Hechavarria. It’s difficult to find support for their opinion. So what’s going on, and how might we explain the discrepancy?

You knew you weren’t getting through this without .gifs of misplays. So let’s acknowledge right here that Hechavarria hasn’t been perfect. The following plays are kind of tricky, to some extent, but we’re allowed to hold big-league shortstops to a high standard, particularly ones thought to be elite in the field. A stumble:

Hechavarria_1

A lackadaisical throw, with a quick runner on the move:

Hechavarria_2

And here are two misplays that came literally back to back:

Hechavarria_3

Hechavarria_4

Most generally, we’re thinking about major-league shortstops. So we’re selecting for the best defenders, from a bigger pool of most of the best players in the world. The average major-league shortstop is an extraordinary defensive talent, because if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to play as an average major-league shortstop. They’re pretty much all impressive, and if you get to watch one over and over, it’s going to be hard not to be impressed, especially when you’re dealing with a player who has Hechavarria’s flash, instead of, say, Jhonny Peralta‘s reliability. Shortstops make most plays. One remembers good plays made longer than one remembers plays not made.

And that leads into the next point: I think the occasional mistake is forgiven, provided issues don’t become chronic, like they have for Ryan Zimmerman and Pedro Alvarez. An error can just look like a fluke, and a hit can look like a play that wasn’t reasonably possible. The difference between the best and the worst shortstops is a fraction of one play a game, and it’s hard to notice and believe in those differences. Individual plays not made add up over time, but each one might be understandable.

The main point is a related point. An issue a lot of people have with prospect evaluation is that prospects will often get evaluated on their potential ceilings. I think the Marlins might be seeing Hechavarria for his defensive ceiling. They know how much ground he’s able to cover, and they’ve seen enough of his arm and his reactions. Hechavarria might have a bigger range of possible plays than the average big-league shortstop. That’s supported by his occasional ventures into the realm of the amazing. As it happens, Hechavarria doesn’t appear to perform up to his ceiling, as a lot of hits find a way to get right by him, but when you see an incredible play get made, that can serve as a mental indicator of skill, leading one to over-weight great plays and under-weight general consistency.

I think two statements could be true:

  1. Adeiny Hechavarria has elite-level talent
  2. Adeiny Hechavarria has yet to put together an elite-level performance

These are basically just guesses on my part, but it’s the best explanation I can come up with for why the Marlins and everyone and everything else seem to disagree. I think the Marlins are aware of Hechavarria’s tools, and they’ve seen how good he could be at his best. I think they subconsciously brush aside when he’s not at his best, because an individual throwing error can be a fluke, and an individual misstep can be a fluke, and individual flukes are anomalous lapses. Those lapses pile up and over enough time they start to reflect skill, but none of them reflect skill quite like Hechavarria tracking that pop-up behind second base. How could a player who does that not be outstanding?

It’s funny — a year ago, the Marlins were receptive to the idea that maybe they were just positioning Hechavarria wrong.

Added Marlins infield coach Perry Hill: “I guess the numbers don’t lie. 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.”

Perry Hill, a year ago: “I guess the numbers don’t lie.”

Perry Hill, 2014: “They’ve got all these fancy numbers you measure stuff by and I guess I’m just a dinosaur. I go by what I see.”

For the Marlins, regarding Hechavarria, there’s less doubt than ever. For the rest of us, regarding Hechavarria, there’s more doubt than ever. But for all I know, this might just come down to a misunderstanding. For all I know, this is about the difference between evaluating ability and evaluating performance. Hechavarria’s got a lot of ability.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


43 Responses to “How Can We Make Sense of Adeiny Hechavarria?”

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  1. tz says:

    Bet a discussion on Brandon Crawford would look a lot like this as well.

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  2. everdiso says:

    I think it might even be too generous to say his ability is all around elite. Whiffing on routine balls might be lack of concentration or peformance, but it might just be a mediocre glove hand bringing down elite level range and athleticism. When the ball stays in the mitt he looks elite, when the glove is just a little bit off, which seems fairly common for him, he doesn’t.

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  3. Very rough methodology, but in response to people who question validity of run value based defensive stats, I like to carve up the field and just look at BABIP. Almost always paints the same basic picture of who’s good and who isn’t. AH ranks in the bottom third of the league. Caveats to the method apply, of course though. Just another point in the column.

    I always tell people you can’t judge defenders by only their best moments. A few dazzling plays don’t make a great fielder, just means the player has the raw tools to be good.

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  4. Baroque6 says:

    It’s a heck-of-a-reach-uh to call him one of the best shortstops in the NL.

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  5. gump says:

    > They’re pretty much all impressive, and if you get to watch one over and over, it’s going to be hard not to be impressed, especially when you’re dealing with a player who has Hechavarria’s flash, instead of, say, Jhonny Peralta‘s reliability.

    Looking at the inside edge data backs this up. What weights do we put to routine/likely v. unlikely/even determines how we value the two

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  6. shawn says:

    To me, he seems to be an above average shortstop if you consider average skills with the quick body to control to sometimes overcame that to make it look spectacular. I think that one thing that he likely is not the best at (and it seems the marlins may struggle with) is positioning, and that can be something that is not easy to overcome. As a Braves fan, Ill take andrelton, but hechavarria can have some stretches where im sure marlins pitchers are glad to have him.

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  7. Mike says:

    Bill Buckner might have something to say about plays not made being not remembered as long.

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  8. Thufir says:

    Was that over the shoulder catch that difficult? Didn’t look out of this world, he put some mustard on the finish but it seemed like a garden variety tough play more than something really difficult….

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    • Billy says:

      He ran about 6–80 feet straight backwards on a fast sinking liner with his back turned to the ball most of the way and made a backhanded over the shoulders catch. How does that NOT sound “that difficult”? That’s one of the better plays I’ve seen someone make all season.

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    • Neil S says:

      Seriously? He ran directly backward into mid-depth center field. I can count all the times I’ve seen a shortstop do that on one finger.

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  9. KK-Swizzle says:

    Call the Yuniesky Betancourt effect: he looks like a good ballplayer…but doesn’t perform like one. Which will lead to old-school type talent evaluators giving him what is probably way to many chances to actually produce.

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  10. LeeTro says:

    In Cosart’s defense, Adeiny is much better than anyone the Astros put at SS the last 2 years. His frame of reference is a bit off.

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  11. Pirates Hurdles says:

    This – “The average major-league shortstop is an extraordinary defensive talent”

    Almost all everyday SS look like great defenders when you watch them play everyday. Without watching others regularly its nearly impossible to understand where your guy’s great glove fits amongst the other very great defenders.

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  12. daragon says:

    According to inside edge data Hechavarria compares similarly to Andrelton Simmons on any plays classified as below a 40% chance, and anything classified over a 60% chance. But then Simmons destroys him on anything in the 40-60% range.

    I don’t know much of anything about inside edge data or how those ranges are classified, but this seems incredibly strange to me. Not really sure what it means, if anything, but thought it was worth throwing out there if anyone knows how to make use of inside edge data. It also might explain the discrepancy between perception and actual value.

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      Simmons has the best infield arm in the game, it’s that simple. It’s a Hall of Fame caliber tool for a shortstop. He’d be throwing in the upper 90s as a pitcher. Hechavarria’s arm is not in the same class, which makes a huge difference on close plays with fast runners.

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  13. Mr. 1970's Thinking Man says:

    No mention of Strat-o-matic rating AH a 1 last year? Don’t be such a spaz!

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  14. KCDaveInLA says:

    I’ll explain it to Cosart how I would explain it to my 12-year nephew: “Sure, diving plays look great…but what if he didn’t HAVE to dive?”

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  15. E says:

    Reminds me of Asdrubal Cabrera, makes spectacular bare hands and dives and gets on sportscenter but lacks range and boots some easy ones.

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  16. Jacks says:

    From my limited viewing of Marlins games, the conclusion makes sense. I see him take some plays off, displaying limited range, watching grounders scoot by without an attempt to field. I’ve also seen him make wicked stops and throws deep in the 5.5 hole. Talented but inconsistent I’d say.

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  17. Z..... says:

    I have long not understood why Hech doesnt grade out better with the defensive metrics. I am a follower of them, which I think is obvious by me reading this article on this website…Hech is elite going up the middle, and he has improved going into the hole, and charging balls on the infield, which were his 2 main issues. He has a strong arm, and has the propensity for making spectacular play after spectacular play…My assumption is that his lack of range by UZR might have something to do wiht the way that Perry Hill positions his fielders. The Marlins dont employ many shifts the way they have been used by other teams over the last couple of years, but Hill is regarded as the best infield instructor in baseball, and he positions his fielders in certain ways…You have to also take into account the very fast surface at Marlins Park. Its widely known that the infield grass is very fast, and with the Marlins throwing a couple of SPs that generate GBs, there is going to be a lot of hard contact on the ground that gets through. Another thing you probably have to remember is the fact that Garrett Jones is the Marlins primary 1st baseman. I dont think I have to explain how atrocious that is…Hech has seemingly stepped it up further than usual over the last 2 months or so. It feels like every night, he makes at least 2-3 great plays that effect the game in some way. He obviously isnt Andrelton Simmons, and NOBODY is, but I’ll gladly take Hech on my team, and I’m glad I get to watch him every night. For whatever reason, the metrics dont like him, but I feel like if he can continue to make the strides he has offensively, and possibly up the OBP into the .315-.320 range, he should be valuable

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  18. Josh M says:

    Looks kind of all sizzle no steak to me.

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  19. Nathaniel Hall says:

    If you look at the Inside Edge data, it appears that we may be seeing an example where UZR is breaking down due to the Simpson’s Paradox. Namely, that Hechavarria appears to be seeing a higher proportion of more difficult plays than the normal shortstop, which would cut into his defensive numbers regardless of his true talent level since UZR only counts where the ball goes and not necessarily how difficult the play is. To wit, the following play breakdowns between Hechavarria and the current SS UZR leader, Zach Cozart, via Inside Edge:

    Hechavarria: Routine – 312; Likely – 30; Even – 20; Unlikely – 19; Remote – 34; Impossible – 20
    Cozart: Routine – 379; Likely – 26; Even – 9; Unlikely – 12; Remote – 21; Impossible – 11

    Cozart has seen a LOT more ‘Routine’ plays, whereas Hechavarria trumps him in every other category. This may explain at least a portion of the UZR difference between them, making Hechavarria look worse and Cozart look better in comparison. I would not venture, however, that it explains ALL the difference, however.

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      Or does Hechavarria put himself into difficult positions more often than Cozart? A vital difference between an average defensive SS and a good one can often come down to how he understands the pitcher’s gameplan. He can read catcher signs from SS and cheat on positioning knowing the count and what pitch is coming. It’s how Cal Ripken racked up huge defensive numbers at SS along with a strong arm. Most veteran middle infielders take advantage of knowing the pitch.

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