Marlins think Adeiny Hechavarria is better with the glove than defensive metrics indicate

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Interesting story from Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and advanced defensive metrics.

The Marlins are confident that Hechavarria is one of the best defensive shortstops in the league — in fact, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill was “befuddled” that he wasn’t one of the finalists for the Gold Glove Award — but advanced metrics don’t see it that way. The 24-year-old was second-to-last in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) this past season among shortstops with at least 935 innings played. Meanwhile, he was tied for 18th among regular shortstops in DRS (defensive runs saved).

How could there be such a difference of opinion between what the Marlins evaluate with the eye test and how he grades out by defensive metrics? According to Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) research and development associate Joe Rosales, poor positioning could be keeping Hechavarria from meeting his potential as a defender.

“On a physical level, [Hechavarria] matches up well with somebody like Simmons,” Rosales said. “When you see him out there he does compare favorably to some of the best shortstops. His objective metrics aren’t matching up and when we’re able to dig through it, it looks like it’s just a positioning thing.”

Based on BIS research, no shortstop in baseball was better at fielding balls to his left than Hechavarria (plus-15). Among the 35 players with most innings at shortstop, Hechavarria ranked 32nd with a minus-16 on balls to his right.

“When it comes to where he sets up versus right-handed batters, he doesn’t cheat over toward the hole as much as most shortstops do,” Rosales said. “He’s just not making those plays as much as other shortstops are on balls hit toward the hole. If he could focus on that one area of how he positions himself against right-handed batters, [objectively] he could be just as good as anybody else.”

Defensive metrics aren’t perfect and sometimes fluctuate from one season to the next, but Marlins infield coach Perry Hill seems to find them instructive in this case and holds himself accountable for getting Hechavarria in the right position moving forward.

“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.”

Good stuff by Rodriguez. Well worth reading on a slow Saturday in the baseball world.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.