Draft Analysis: Gavin Cecchini and the Value of SS Defense

There’s been a surprising amount of negativity towards the Mets picks this year. Maybe it’s that Mets fans are a surly lot, made surlier by the Reyes departure, maybe it’s the nature of the internet. Anyway, the instant analysis, good and bad is nuts. Give it a few years. By spring of 2016, we’ll have a pretty good idea how this draft class turned out. Unless you’re writing from the safety and security of a time machine, or even 2017, hold off on sweeping judgments.

Lets take a look at the Mets first round pick SS Gavin Cecchini.

I was on record as hoping the Mets would take the risk on Lucas Giolito, which the Nationals eventually did at #16. However, Giolito was a significant risk, both physically and more importantly, financially. To sign him, the Mets would have likely have had to make many concessions elsewhere in their draft, or even sacrifice a future first-rounder, to compensate for his bonus demands.

Now, as to Cecchini’s best attributes, his defense and speed, which I summarized here:

Kevin Goldstein wrote, “plus defensive shortstop who should stay at the position all the way up the ladder. He’s a plus runner as well…”

Baseball America: “Cecchini’s best attributes are his steadiness and defensive skills at shortstop. He has good hands and feet as well as the infield actions to stay at short,…. His arm strength is a tick above-average and unfailingly accurate. His speed is about the same and plays up like his arm.

ESPN:  In the field, Cecchini has a plus arm with a very quick release, soft hands, and the agility to be an above-average defender at short in pro ball.”

So, that’s three scouting reports who suggest that Cecchini can play average, or better defense at shortstop.

Pause for a moment to consider the value of shortstop defense. As if Mets fans who watched Tuesday’s game really needed another reminder.

Using data from the last three complete seasons (2009-2011), there are exactly 14 players who have a positive UZR/150, that is, by the metric, are average or better shortstops. Of those, only nine are better than five runs above average per 150 games. That’s it. There are literally, fewer than 10 guys in baseball who are five runs above average annually at shortstop.

By defensive runs saved, there are 13 shortstops in baseball who have a positive number next to their names in the last three years.

Of this group, of average or better defensive SS, exactly three are average or better offensively as measured by wRC+ (where 100 is league average).

What’s a 100 wRC+? Guys with 100 wRC+ in the last three years include Maicer Izturis (.280/.341/.400), Furcal (.269/.335/.393) and Ryan Ludwick (.251/.321/.409).

Even becoming a league average hitter, combined with slightly above average defense would make Cecchini a borderline star.

The Mets passed on OF Courtney Hawkins to pick Cecchini. Hawkins will move to right as a professional, and is graced with great power. His competition is power-hitting outfielders. There were 28 different outfielders who averaged 20 home runs or more in the last three complete seasons. Sixty-nine different outfielders had wRC+ over 100 or better from 2009-2011.

Bottom line, a guy who can pick it at shortstop will have value. His glove, combined with modest offensive production, could make him a star. Shortstop defense matters that much.

Full data on the shortstops who have played average or better defense the last three years after the jump.



Player UZR/150 2009-11 wRC+    2009-11
11 95
10.4 78
8.4 92
7.2 98
6.8 86
6.1 96
6 137
5.9 70
4.4 78
2.8 107
2.2 100
1.2 96
1 68
0.1 95

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