It took him 431 at-bats, but Adeiny Hechavarria on Wednesday finally got his first home run. If only earning the respect of baseball’s data crunchers, the sabermetric community, could come so easy.
With one swing of the bat, Hechavarria put to rest any thought of joining Luis Castillo in 1999 as the only everyday Marlins to go an entire season without a home run.
Hechavarria deposited a Hector Santiago fastball over the wall in center at Angel Stadium. After rounding the bases and returning to the dugout, teammates gave him the standard silent treatment as he raised his arms to celebrate.
But ask players or the coaches on the Marlins about the poor metrics that haunt Hechavarria, and they are anything but tight-lipped. Mention the negative WAR (wins above replacement) figure that made him the worst everyday player in the majors a season ago, and the go bonkers.
“Hechavarria shows me everyday why WAR and all these #s are garbage,” pitcher Jarred Cosart spouted off on his Twitter account a few days ago after the shortstop made a game-saving circus grab in Colorado.
Cosart has been with the Marlins for only a month, keep in mind, a newcomer who joined the team in last month’s trade with the Houston Astros.
“Before I got here, I saw him on Sportscenter every other day,” Cosart said of Hechavarria. “That was enough for me. I don’t know what they’re basing their grading on, but I definitely want him behind me.”
Bring up the numbers to Marlins infield coach Perry Hill, and he practically turns red with anger and goes on the counterattack.
Hill whipped out his phone to show a reporter a screen capture of a television graphic, which showed Hechavarria heading a list of the majors’ top defensive shortstops based on a different set of fielding criteria.
The data, which was provided by Baseball Info Solutions, ranked Hechavarria ahead of Atlanta’s Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons and the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, among others.
“I’m not going by WAR,” Hill said. “I’m going by this. Everyone’s got their thing, like Democrats and Republicans.”
Just looking at the basic numbers, there’s no question Hechavarria has improved from 2013 — his first full season in the majors after arriving in the big Toronto trade.
Hechavarria hit only .227 with a .267 on-base percentage and bottom-of-the barrel OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .565.
This season: After collecting three hits Wednesday in the Marlins’ 6-1 loss to Anaheim, Hechavarria is hitting .277 with an OPS of .671.
“I’m focused on line drives,” Hechavarria said. “That’s it. Home runs are OK. But I’m looking for line drives up the middle.”
Hechavarria made the comment before going out and connecting on his first home run in his first at-bat on Wednesday.
The blast brought more than a few smiles from his teammates.
Giancarlo Stanton breaks out into a wide grin when Hechavarria’s power is being discussed.
Stanton said that when the Marlins were in Colorado last week, playing at hitter-friendly Coors Field, Hechavarria told everyone he was going to homer. The shortstop came close, tripling off the wall.
“If you can’t hit one in Colorado, I’m pretty sure he’s out,” Stanton said before Wednesday’s game, shortly before Hechavarria went out and put the issue to rest.
The Marlins aren’t counting on Hechavarria to supply power. They’re leaning on his glove and expect him to continue improving with his bat.
“I’ve seen him improve even since April and May,” Hill said. “The routine plays are now becoming more consistent. He’s always going to be able to make the fantastic play because he’s so athletic. But the balls that should be outs, they are becoming outs every time now. The concentration level is better.”
Hill said that when things aren’t going well with Hechavarria at the plate, he reminds him of the runs he’s saving the team with his glove.
“I talk to him about these things called defensive RBI,” Hill said. “I tell him you can knock in runs, but you can also save runs from scoring. Those are RBIs, too. They don’t end up on your bubblegum card, but your teammates know.”
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