Once dubbed the ‘shortstop of the future’ for the Milwaukee Brewers after a breakout campaign in 2013, Jean Segura fell on hard times in 2014 and 2015 – both professionally and personally. The 2013 National League All-Star hit .294 that season, to go along with 12 HR, 49 RBI, 20 2B’s, 10 3B’s, 44 SB, .752 OPS, and a 4.0 WAR. At the ripe age of 23, Segura was poised to man the position in Milwaukee for years to come. Unfortunately for him, that was not the case.
Fast forward to 2014 – shoot, let’s back it up to the second half of 2013. After hitting .325 with 11 HR, 36 RBI, and 27 SB the first half of the season, Segura’s numbers tanked considerably in the latter half of the season. In 54 games to wrap up the 2013 season, the shortstop hit a measly .241 with a .268 OBP and .315 SLG %. Those same second half numbers continued into 2014 and 2015, where in over 1,100 plate appearances, he hit .252 with a .285 OBP and .615 OPS. He ranked last in MLB in OPS and SLG. His WPA (Win Probability Added) ranked dead last among qualifying players at -4.88. You could argue he was the worst everyday player in baseball. He ranked 13th worst in O-Swing % (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside of the strike zone). There were quite a few things to dislike about Segura as a hitter. On defense, he was average at best. It was offensively where his flaws showed the most.
Personally, Segura had to deal with the death of his nine-month-old son early in July of 2014. It was obviously a very emotional experience, especially for a guy who was still only 24 years old and whose family still lived in the Dominican Republic. I realize death affects us all differently, but I can only imagine how difficult it would be to focus on the game of baseball with such a devastating loss.
With a new front office taking over in Milwaukee, the emergence of Orlando Arcia in their system, and a full rebuild under way, Segura’s time as a Brewer came to an end on January 30, 2016. Dealt to the Diamondbacks along with Tyler Wagner for Chase Anderson, Aaron Hill, and Isan Diaz, the D’Backs were universally criticized by the baseball industry. While an alternative option like Howie Kendrick remained on the market, Dave Stewart decided to pull the trigger and acquire the struggling shortstop, with hopes he could turn around his career in the desert. With the Diamondbacks in win-now mode with the signing of Zack Greinke and the acquisition of Shelby Miller, many felt like Arizona would go all out in their efforts to improve their baseball club. Segura, like I mentioned earlier, was one of the worst players in baseball over the past two seasons. The only reason why he was relevant was due to the fact his 2013 campaign (at least the first half) showed a lot of promise – and he was still very young. Bringing in a guy like Howie Kendrick would have seemed to make more sense, but that is not what the D’Backs had in mind.
Now, Segura has had a red hot start to the season hitting atop of Arizona’s lineup.
Yes, it is still April. Yes, he is only 20 games into the season. But so far, there are quite a few encouraging signs. He is T-1st in plate appearances, 1st in hits with 32 (2nd is Manny Machado with 27), 2nd in WPA at 1.53 (trailing only Bryce Harper), 8th in batting average, 9th in RBI, 18th in WAR (0.9), 20th in OPS, and 22nd in SLG. For a guy who finished in the bottom of the league in most statistical categories over the past two seasons, this is a pretty impressive start.
Over the first couple of seasons in the Majors, Segura always kept his hand prior to the pitch above his shoulders (seen in video below). You can can see that they started high and he would drop them right before the pitch was released.
This season, however, Segura decided to lower his hands and get in a better position to make contact. Instead of his hands beginning above his shoulders, they are now at the letters and he keeps them there for the duration of the swing. You can see at roughly the :33 second mark a close-up of his stance prior to the pitch.
That subtle difference in his approach has made a world of difference in his contact and production so far this season. In an article written by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, he writes that Segura made this change to his swing this offseason after working with former Major League outfielder Luis Mercedes back in the Dominican Republic.
Now with my hands lower, I don’t have to go down and then go up to hit the ball. I go directly to the ball. I do everything in one motion instead of doing it three times. When I attacked the ball with my hands up, I had to go down, go up again and swing.
We [Segura and Mercedes] did it every day for three months. To be honest, the first time I didn’t feel comfortable. He told me to use it and don’t change it.1
Let’s now take a deeper look at the numbers that don’t appear on the surface. First of all, Segura is benefiting from a generous .368 BABIP.2 He has floated around the .300 mark for most of his career, so some regression is bound to happen. On the other hand, he may be able to keep an inflated BABIP due to his K% rate at a career-best 11.6%. In 2013, he was at 13.5% and just last season, 15.9%. Those numbers have certainly improved, but his walk rate has remained stagnant at 2.1% (8th worst in the league). That typically isn’t a wonderful sign and is something that would need to improve to maintain his fantastic start.
On the other hand, Segura has seen an uptick in line-drive and fly-ball percentages, as well as a decrease in ground-ball percentages. He is currently sporting a 17.9 LD% (17.5% career) and 26.9 FB% (23.3% career). The shortstop has also been utilizing the opposite field at an all time high, 38.8% compared to a career 31.6%.3
When you look at his plate discipline, you see some positive signs as well. You are seeing a guy who is making more contact. His O-Contact% (percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown outside of the strike zone) is 80.3%, much higher than his career 74.7%. Just last season that number was at just 71.9%, compared to 77.6% back in 2013. He hasn’t been swinging any less at pitches outside of the strike zone, but he has been making more contact with them. I believe his hand adjustment made in his batting stance has helped contribute to these numbers. His Z-Contact% (percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside of the strike zone) is 95.0%, also a career high. Segura has just been making more contact with the baseball and striking out less.
Through 20 games, you are currently seeing a guy who has certainly improved his game but still has a long way to go. His new stance has lead to him making more contact and putting the ball in play, which is good, but he is benefiting from a high BABIP and an abnormal power surge. He hasn’t necessarily been hitting the ball much harder in years past, but he has been hitting it “less-soft” than the past two seasons.
While hitting the ball hard only 21.3% of the time is not a great thing, guys like Dee Gordon have maintained relatively the same line over the years. Gordon also has a career .345 BABIP that he has sustained over 492 games. You don’t expect a guy like Gordon to hit 30+ HR and rip doubles into the gap. He is a guy that is going to slap the ball around, get on base, and not walk a whole lot. Will Jean Segura ever be Dee Gordon? Not likely. But Segura could maintain a high BABIP if he keeps making contact and does have some speed (44 SB back in 2013) that has not been shown off over recent years due to the lack of him getting on-base.
If Segura can keep making contact and getting on-base, he will have the opportunity to score a lot of runs and steal 30+ bases. Due to the fact he is not really hitting the ball much harder than in years past, I don’t foresee him mashing 20+ HR. He can, however, keep hitting the ball around the field and use his speed to stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. While he only has three stolen bases early into the season, he will get more opportunities when his power numbers come back down to earth. The early returns are positive so far on Jean Segura, and D’Backs fans certainly hope he can keep churning the offense atop of the order.