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Guillermo Heredia: Defensive Enigma

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Is Heredia really a “top of the line defender”?

Seattle Mariners v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

When speaking to the media on the newest Rays players and the first trade of the offseason, Erik Neander called Guillermo Heredia a “top of the line defender”. Now, obviously GMs hyping the players they acquired is a time honored tradition. But this got me thinking: is Neander right?

Guillermo Heredia comes to the Rays as one of the auxiliary pieces of the Mike Zunino-Mallex Smith swap. He figures to slot in as the 4th OF on the Rays, basically becoming the RH version of what Mallex Smith’s role was expected to fill last season.

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, Heredia is a player I’ve gotten a chance to watch personally in Seattle quite a bit over the last two seasons. I’ve also looked up the available defensive metrics. Long story short, they don’t agree.

Eye Test vs Metrics

One of the best things about the information age in baseball is that we don’t have to rely solely on the eye test or player and coaches quotes. Derek Jeter sure looked like a Gold Glove SS, what with all those jump throws from deep in the hole. And judging mostly from the eye test, Heredia sure looks like a top of the line defender.

How about HR robbing catches? Nothing screams great defender like a snag over the wall!

How about a strong, accurate throw running the other way to cut a double into an out?

Watching him live he was a highlight waiting to happen, whether it was with his reckless abandon tracking down fly balls, or gunning down runners on base with a strong left handed arm. But like I said, eye test is a flawed method of judging defense.

It’s in the defensive metrics where stuff gets kinda confusing with Heredia.

To put these numbers in some context and to give a familiar comparison, I’m going to include the player who Heredia is somewhat replacing: Mallex Smith

Defensive Metrics

2016-2018 DRS UZR OAA FRAA
2016-2018 DRS UZR OAA FRAA
Guillermo Heredia -1 -7.5 17 11.1
Mallex Smith 14 2.9 5 -10.7

If you believe Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Heredia doesn’t look like a top tier defender. However, Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) and Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA) both paint Heredia in a much higher light. The disparity between these metrics is quite fascinating.

It’s further interesting that Mallex shows up in the reverse, with the metrics that like Heredia’s glove being quite a bit down on Smith’s.

DRS and UZR provide zone-based fielding analysis. DRS relies on the plus/minus system tallied by The Fielding Bible, while UZR is based on play-by-play data recorded by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS). Each metric will estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position. UZR extrapolates that data over six years of batted ball data to come up with its metric, but is volatile in small sample sizes. Because both use source data entered by humans, both are to some extent subjective.

It’s worth noting that when it comes to DRS and UZR, both metrics rated Heredia much better as a corner OF, as he was near average to just-above in UZR as a LF and RF, while collecting 9 DRS over 877.2 IP.

FRAA focuses “on the number of plays made compared to the average number of plays made by a player at said position,” and includes elements like the pitcher’s tendancies, batter handedness, game leverage, and ballpark factors. An 11.1 FRAA is top of the line when it comes to that metric.

OAA is Statcast’s range-based metric which, “shows how many outs an outfielder has saved over his peers, accounting for not only the number of plays an outfielder makes (or doesn’t), but also the difficulty of them.” Heredia’s OAA score in 2017, a season he spent more time as a corner outfield defender while battling a “separated shoulder,” ranked alongside Aaron Judge for 12th in MLB with 9 outs above average.

In 2018 he tallied six OAA primarily from center field.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Other Metrics

These are just the publically available metrics, and internally teams have numerous stats and information that go deeper than what we are able to see. Perhaps their internal metrics align closer with that of OAA and FRAA, which are primarily data driven.

Judging from other available metrics that judge defense, Heredia shows up a bit less than I’d expect from a “top tier defender”. Guillermo Heredia’s arm rates out only slightly above average and well below some of the top arms in the league.

In 2018 Heredia’s sprint speed rates at 28.4 ft/ second. That puts him 108th fastest in MLB, and 40th fastest CF. The lack of top end speed does not mean he can’t be a great defender, but it would help.

Finally, in FanGraphs Insider Edge Fielding, for his career Guillermo Heredia has 12% catch rate on Remote (1-10%) over 25 attempts. For some perspective, Kevin Kiermaier has a 18.9% catch rate for Remote rated plays in 52 attempts.

So, is he “top of the line” or not?

After all of that, I still do not know.

There are some things to really like about Heredia’s defense. Despite not having top end speed, he runs good routes and makes a lot of plays the average fielder might not. Some metrics seem to think he’s on the upper end of outfield defenders, and no matter which one you check, his corner defense seems to rate well.

Can he put all the tools, instincts, and hustle together to reach his full potential? Can the Rays utilize him, through their always cutting edge player positioning and shifting, to maximize his talents on the field?

The one metric that we have not had enough data to test for could be the biggest test of all: how is Heredia’s reaction time playing the ball off of a catwalk or a roof? I have a lot of questions about how Heredia will perform for the Rays, and most of those questions cannot be answered just yet.

So is Guillermo Heredia a “top of the line defender”?

The answer is a resounding “maybe?”

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Daniel Russell contributed to this article. For more Guillermo Heredia content, check out his analysis of his basestealing from Lookout Landing a year ago. Despite his speed, it’s worth noting Heredia has four career stolen bases.