Will Hechavarria Ever Have Fantasy Value?

Adeiny Hechavarria has a problem.

He can’t steal bases. He’s been caught nine times in just 20 tries this season, a terrible success rate well below what any team, even an offensively inept team like the Miami Marlins, would consider their “break-even” success rate.

In the minors, Hechavarria stole 42 bases and was caught 23 times, a rate that’s a bit better but still largely unimpressive. If there was hope that 2013 might be an anomaly, his 2011 minor league season likely kills that hope, as he went 20-for-37 across three levels.

Hechavarria can’t steal, and it’s basically kept him from having any fantasy potential.

The shortstop position is thin enough that a guy hitting .230 could be somewhat ownable if he threw in some counting stats. Brian Dozier, for example, is hitting .242 and has been the 13th most valuable shortstop on the year, per Baseball Monster. Asdrubal Cabrera, at .235, is also unbelievably in the top-20 despite having his worst season since 2010.

The bar is low, but not quite low enough for Hechavarria, because 11 steals aren’t going to cut it when you have no power.

For 2013, the league has stolen bases at a 72.5 percent success rate. If Hechavarria was average in this regard, he’d have about 15 steals in his 20 attempts. That’s still not enough to make him an ownable piece, but his number of attempts would also likely have increased if he were more successful.

But can we expect Hechavarria’s success rate to improve, considering he’s just 24 years old?

On one hand, you’d expect raw speed to peak fairly early in a player’s career. But things like picking up a pitcher’s move, getting jumps and sliding technique could all improve with experience. As an example, Coco Crisp was thrown out 23 times in 62 attempts up to age 25 (63% success) and has been 234–for-279 since (83.9% success).

I pulled a custom leaderboard going back as far as 2000 to see stolen base efficacy by age. Keep in mind that this is a really quick study and is subject to an arbitrary end point as well as survivorship bias (poor base stealers won’t continue to steal, bad players retire early, etc).

sb with age
Note: Y-axis does not start at zero.

It’s probably worth cutting the graph off around age 36 since something off appears to be happening from that age on (thanks a lot, Kenny Lofton and Ichiro Suzuki). A more robust study would be able to isolate a player’s original success rate and then see how they develop, but for our purposes it’s simply worth noting that stolen base success rate does not appear to change much from age 21 through 30. For Hechavarria, this means it can’t simply be expected that he’ll improve.

To get more specific, I filtered for players 25 and under who had a success rate below 65 percent with at least 15 attempts. I won’t reproduce the full list here (there are a lot of names) but there are several examples of guys getting better on the bases with more experience. There are also several who don’t figure it out or stopped stealing, too. All this really tells us is that a single season’s worth of steal attempts probably isn’t a big enough sample to determine a player’s true talent in that regard.

As for Hechavarria, it seems unlikely he’ll ever be much of a fantasy asset. His track record suggests a better BABIP than he currently sports but his strikeout and walk rates don’t suggest much more than a .250 hitter. His isolated slugging never strayed far north of .110 for long, and as a professional he’s stolen bases at just a 62 percent success rate.

Even if the Marlins don’t decide to look elsewhere for 2014, fantasy owners probably should.

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Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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lester bangs

I guess it’s a slow news day.