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Adeiny Hechavarria could be a like-for-like replacement for Jose Iglesias, Tigers

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Hechavarria has proven to be the best fielder among the free agent shortstops available this offseason.

Wild Card Game - Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

At his best, Jose Iglesias was an All-Star caliber shortstop for the Detroit Tigers. He proved as much in 2015, when he hit .314/.364/.373 in the first half and made the American League All-Star team, the lone appearance of his career. While his bat wasn’t so strong in subsequent seasons, he still provided plenty of value with his superlative defending, arguably second only to Andrelton Simmons among today’s crop of MLB shortstops.

Given the value Iglesias provided over the past few years, fellow Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria could be a decent fill-in for the Tigers. Hechavarria isn’t quite as good as Iglesias on either side of the ball — we’ll get into the details in a bit — but his fielding ability isn’t far off, making him the most Iglesias-shaped free agent on the market this winter (aside from Iglesias himself, of course). The Tigers have already shown some interest in the 29-year-old, and was the pick among the fanbase to replace Iglesias before Royals fans got a hold of our Very Scientific Twitter Poll.

(I should have taken a screenshot, but Hechavarria was hovering around 38 percent of the vote before our friends at Royals Review pleaded for Detroit to take Alcides Escobar off their hands.)

Let’s get this part out of the way first: Hechavarria is not a good hitter.

In his seven major league seasons, Hechavarria has hit .254/.290/.345. He has just one year with an OPS+ above 90, and has finished south of 80 (i.e. 20 percent below major league average) in four separate seasons. His 16.3 percent strikeout rate is below-average, but he couples that with a subpar 4.8 percent walk rate. His career .091 isolated power (ISO) is only a shade worse than Iglesias (.094), but the eighth-worst mark among players with at least 2,000 plate appearances since 2012.

However, like most of the other players in the above link, Hechavarria is an excellent defender. Baseball Reference credits him with 6.0 defensive wins above replacement (dWAR) over the course of his career, while FanGraphs’ defensive rating has him at +45.8 runs (about 4.6 wins). Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) also rate him positively, though not quite as much as the composite ratings.

Part of the reason for this is that Hechavarria will flub the occasional routine play.

As we saw with Iglesias earlier in his career, Hechavarria’s numbers are somewhat deflated by lower-than-expected production on easier plays. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Hechavarria managed seasons with 78.4, 72.0, and 71.4 percent success rates on “likely” plays, or plays with a 60 to 90 percent chance of success. While this falls right in line with the expected production, a top-tier shortstop will convert those more often than most. For instance, Iglesias rated at 89.3 and 81.3 percent in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

To his credit, Hechavarria cleaned this up in 2018. He converted likely plays at an 88.9 percent clip last year, the second time in his career he has finished north of 85 percent. His overall WAR values were hindered by one of the worst offensive outputs of his career, but he finished with nearly a full win on defense alone despite only playing 717 13 innings.

While defensive metrics seem to be weighted towards those who consistently make the routine play — hello there UZR king Jhonny Peralta — Hechavarria somewhat makes up ground with his flair for the spectacular. Using BIS’ same measurement system, Hechavarria has converted remote plays (1-10 percent) at a stunning 15.4 percent clip throughout his career.

While the sample sizes over a single season can be fairly small, he has faced 139 such plays in his seven-year career. He has also converted unlikely plays (10-40 percent) at a better-than-expected rate (43.9 percent). Both of his figures compare favorably to Andrelton Simmons, who is at 10.9 percent and 45.3 percent, respectively, in his career.

These metrics aren’t perfect, of course. Hechavarria isn’t nearly the defender Simmons is, and most numbers put Iglesias ahead of him as well. FanGraphs’ Fan Scouting Report puts Hechavarria 19th among 59 shortstops with at least 2,000 innings played since 2012. That’s not bad — not elite, but a fair measure above average.

Were this glove tied to an average-ish bat, Hechavarria would be a highly coveted free agent on this year’s market. Instead, Hechavarria is an all-glove player, but one that could fill in capably as a stopgap option while prospects like Sergio Alcantara and Willi Castro continue to develop.