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.