For Kiké Hernandez, Moving To Shortstop May Unlock Another Level

Jan 25, 2023 - 7:45 PM
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Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Bryan Joiner, the deputy editor of this website and my podcast partner, does not know that I know how to edit a podcast. This is a deliberate omission on my part. I do not want Bryan to know that I know how to edit a podcast, because I do not want to edit podcasts. I like to write, and I like to yap mindlessly into a microphone. But I do not like checking sound levels, and inserting ad breaks, and performing all the other mundane and minute tasks that are necessary to transform the mindless yapping into something that can be consumed and monetized. So, I’ve never told him that Keaton DeRocher once spent an hour on Zoom with me, walking me through the ins and outs of editing, and that he sent me a 20-page instruction manual on the process that I kind of skimmed. (And now, I’m relying on the fact that Bryan almost never reads this website to keep my secret safe.)

In short: I don’t want to be known as proficient at something I don’t want to do, because then I’ll be expected to do it.

Kiké Hernandez’s entire career has been marked by one thing above all else: his versatility. Kiké, unlike me with my piddly podcasts, is known to be proficient at multiple different defensive positions. This versatility has generally served him well — it’s what enabled him to break into Los Angeles Dodgers lineups that were otherwise stacked with better hitters. But it’s also kept him from doing the thing he loves doing more than anything else on a baseball field: playing shortstop.

“[I’ve] been waiting my whole life to play short at the Major League level on a daily basis,” he told NESN during the Red Sox 2023 Winter Weekend in Springfield. “I believe shortstop has the potential to be my best position, I’m really looking forward to it.”

Defensively, it is going to be very hard to Kiké to be better at short than he is in center field. He proved to be an elite center fielder in 2021, finishing the season with the eighth most Outs Above Average amongst all outfielders — this despite the fact that he only played 93 games at the position.

But what if shortstop is actually Kiké Hernandez’s best position, not defensively, but on the offensive side of the ball?

A look at Kiké’s basic career splits shows one thing pretty clearly: he has been a much better hitter when he’s played the infield than the outfield.

Granted, there could be some statistical noise here. In fact, there probably is. It’s worth noting, for example, that Kiké has had some mediocre offensive stretches in the infield (he slashed just .240/.307/.380 in 78 games as a second baseman in 2019). And let’s not forget that he was playing center field for almost every inning of his legendary postseason run in 2021. But both the sample sizes we’re looking at and the delta between his performance are large enough to think there’s something to this. As an outfielder, he’s been a below league average hitter. As an infielder, he has the same career OPS as Randy Arozarena.

To those of us who aren’t in the game, the idea that a player’s position in the field could have such a big impact on their offense might seem suspect — especially in this particular case, where Kiké performs better while playing the position that is generally considered more demanding. But to him, it makes sense: “I’m excited to get back to the infield. I love the game, how it moves fast in the infield,” he said. “The outfield can get a little monotone for me. There’s a lot more running involved in the outfield. The fans are chirping way more in the outfield.”

Is the fact that it’s more exciting to play in the infield than it is in the outfield sufficient to explain a 120-point difference in OPS? Probably not — again, we’re almost certainly dealing with some statistical noise. But it’ll be something interesting to watch over the first few months of this season. With Trevor Story likely out at least until the All Star break, if not longer, Kiké finally has a chance to do what he loves and show that he can excel at it. Maybe the Red Sox do have a replacement for Xander Bogaerts on the roster after all. Maybe he’s just been too busy doing other things to prove it.

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