How Adeiny Hechavarria Is Interesting

The Tampa Bay Rays are 40-38. Now, that isn’t fantastically good. The Rays are not fantastically good. But that record is good enough to sit just 2.5 games back in the American League East. That record is also good enough to sit just one single game back in the AL wild-card hunt. The Rays right now are playing through the absence of Kevin Kiermaier, but they’re very much competitive, and very much capable of winning another 45 or so times. So the Rays are interested in getting better today.

Enter Adeiny Hechavarria! Rumors started to swirl before the weekend that the Marlins wanted to ship Hechavarria to somebody else. It will not surprise you that the motivating factor here was shedding the salary. The Rays are picking up the salary, and also the player.

Braxton Lee is a talented baseball player, and I have nothing against him. Nor do I have anything against Ethan Clark, another talented baseball player. But the people who are supposed to know these things don’t think either one of those players will develop into an impact big-leaguer. We’ll see. Both these teams understand this is mostly a salary dump. The Marlins could get a lucky break, but for now, Hechavarria is the guy to talk about.

Let’s do that. He’s 28, and coming off a strained oblique. Although he’s been around for years, his career WAR is 1.7. If you know anything about Hechavarria, and you’re also a FanGraphs reader, you know the numbers have seldom liked him. But! Something did turn around for him a few seasons back. The Marlins always talked up Hechavarria’s raw defensive talent. In 2015, that talent turned into results. The performance kept up into 2016. Since the start of the 2015 season, 37 shortstops have played the position for at least 1,000 innings. Hechavarria’s been the seventh-best defender by DRS, and the fifth-best defender by UZR. He’s become a plus glove, and that’s the major reason why the Rays had interest here in the first place.

Yet Hechavarria has a career wRC+ of 70. To make matters worse, between his last two full seasons, he dropped from 87 to 56. His WAR, therefore, dropped from 3.1 to 0.4. One of those is good! One of those is not good. You could easily interpret him as a declining asset.

Here’s where Hechavarria gets kind of interesting. I mean, the defensive stuff is already interesting, but here’s what makes him more interesting still. Even in 2015, Hechavarria didn’t qualify as a good hitter. Then, by his results, his numbers tanked. But Baseball Savant also now hosts an expected wOBA statistic, based on Statcast inputs. In 2015, Hechavarria topped his expected wOBA by 26 points, which was one of the bigger gaps in the majors. Then, in 2016, Hechavarria undershot his expected wOBA by 30 points, which was one of the bigger gaps in the majors in the other direction. According to Statcast, 2016 Hechavarria was better. According to hard-hit rate, 2016 Hechavarria was better. It’s his actual numbers that went in the toilet. That’s neat, even if we don’t know quite what to do with it.

It seems like Hechavarria’s results are misleading. It seems like he went from overachieving to underachieving, and the Rays might figure the bat has just enough life. We don’t know expected wOBA well enough to say for sure, but it’s something to take a chance on. And if Hechavarria can hit enough, the Rays know he’ll be their best defensive shortstop in a while. Certainly better than Matt Duffy, who’s still recovering from an operation. This’ll be good for the infield.

And, ideally, good for the team. Hechavarria will have to be better than an offensive black hole. There’s reason to believe that’s well within his reach.

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.

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Fangraphs Manmember
6 years ago