Which Glove Do You Want?

In a piece from MASN last week, Roch Kubatko said this of the Orioles’ search for a veteran shortstop: “The Orioles chose [Jose] Iglesias over Adeiny Hechavarría in their winter search for a glove-first shortstop.” Kubatko linked the Orioles the Hechevarria back in December, but La Pantera ultimately re-upped with the Braves on a one-year, $1MM deal. The Orioles, meanwhile, splurged on Iglesias, signing the 30-year-old gloveman for a one-year, $3MM guarantee (with a $3.5MM team option for 2021). 

Granted, the Jose Iglesias versus Adeiny Hechavarria showdown wasn’t the most compelling positional matchup of free agency. And while the Orioles may have shown interest in Hechavarria, these situations are dynamic, and the decision to sign one or the other was likely never quite so binary. Let’s use it as a jumping-off point for this player comparison anyway.

First, let’s cover the similarities, as both Cuban-born veterans are glove-first shortstops viewed generally as second-division starters. Hechavarria is a year older, and his deal comes at one-third the cost of Iglesias’, though the Orioles picked up the second year of control on Iglesias. Both players entered the league fairly young and both saw their first significant action in 2012 (Iglesias at 22 with the Red Sox, Hechavarria at 23 with the Blue Jays). And both have since gone on to play for multiple franchises (Iglesias for Boston, Detroit, Cincinnati and Baltimore, Hechavarria for Toronto, Miami, Tampa, Pittsburgh, both New Yorks, and Atlanta).

Since Iglesias has a more stable resume, my guess is his name carries a little more weight, so let’s start there. Iglesias, 30, has produced a total of 11.1 rWAR/11.6 fWAR thus far over his eight years in the bigs (he appeared in 10 games as a 21-year-old in 2011, but missed all of the 2014 season). The right-handed batter has traded off between ~2.5 fWAR and ~1.5 fWAR seasons going all the way back to his rookie campaign, but either way he presents as an above-average option at short. He produced 9 OAA at short last year, putting him among the elite options defensively at short.

The batting line is the question with Iglesias after posting a career line of .273/.315/.371. Included therein, however, is a fair amount of year-to-year variance. Early in his career, Iglesias was a .300 hitter, but over his final three seasons in Detroit (2016 to 2018) he managed a batting average of just .259 BA. The walk rate has been steadily below average, so when he can’t hit his way on base, his whole offensive profile suffers. He’s a difficult guy to strikeout, and as a guy who puts the ball in play without much oomph, his offensive value is tied directly to his BABIP. When his BABIP falls below .300, his overall line underwhelms. When the ball bounces his way, such as in 2013, 2015, and 2019, Iglesias turns into an asset with the bat: combined .296 BA in those seasons.

Iglesias has also gained a modicum of power over the years. His isolated power was consistently below .100 for the early part of his career, but over the last three seasons, Iglesias has enjoyed a small bump to .114 ISO, .120 ISO, and .119 ISO. That’s still nothing to write home about, but put together with the rest of his profile, and it’s enough to make Iglesias a viable starter.

Thanks to his every-down status as the Marlins starting shortstop from 2013 to 2016, Hechavarria has appeared in more games and seen more plate appearances over his career than Iglesias. The past three seasons have been a whirlwind, however, as Hechavarria became a part-time player while playing for seven teams in the last three seasons. By WAR, he only comes about halfway to matching Iglesias’ career totals (5.6 rWAR, 4.6 fWAR). Hechavarria does bring the added benefit of being a switch-hitter, but Iglesias edges him out in most statistical categories, including career stolen bases (52 to 35).

Though their profiles are very similar, the real difference between the two is that Hechavarria hasn’t matched the offensive ceiling of Iglesias. They walk at similar rates, and though Hechevarria strikes out a little more, he still boasts an above-average ability to put the bat on the ball. Unfortunately, he’s never quite put it all together. He hasn’t posted a batting average higher than .261 or an on-base percentage over .300 since 2015.

If there’s something in Hechavarria’s favor, it’s this: his power ticked upwards last season, to a robust .202 ISO. The added power came in only half a season of play, so it’s hard to know if the gains in Hechavarria’s game could/would be sustained over the course of a full slate of games. Back in Atlanta, we won’t likely find out, as he’s in line to back up Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies in the middle infield.

For that matter, it’s difficult to compare the contracts signed by Hechavarria and Iglesias because their expected roles are so different – and the expectations of their clubs are so very divergent. The Orioles might see triple the production from Iglesias that the Braves will from Hechavarria (to match the salary difference), but that’s at least in part because Iglesias could receive triple the playing time. Both the Orioles and Braves probably got the guy that better suits their needs – but in a vacuum – the choice is yours (link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users).

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