The Secret to Segura’s Success

I know what you’re thinking: Jean Segura hasn’t been that successful this year. I can see that point of view, but it depends on how you look at it and what your expectations are for him. If you expected him to be an above-average shortstop for the whole season, he’s fallen short of that. But if you just expected him to improve on last season, then so far he’s been a moderate success story.

Segura got a cup of coffee at the end of the 2012 season, but he didn’t really burst onto the scene until the following year. In 623 plate appearances, he hit .294/.329/.423 and was worth a whopping 5.6 WARP. That was thanks in large part of his 23.5 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average).

Defense would carry Segura to a 3.8 WARP in 2014, but his offense plummeted severely. In 557 plate appearances he hit a putrid .246/.289/.326. There were, of course, some pretty intense extenuating circumstances. Early in the season he was accidentally hit in the face by Ryan Braun’s bat. But more tragically, he had to endure the passing of his infant son.

While each event surely impacted Segura, it’s fair to wonder how differently, if at all, he would have performed had they not occurred. After all, he struggled out of the gates in 2012, during the second half of 2013, and for most of 2014. In fact, the only time he showed any offensive potential (outside of the minor-league system) was the first half of 2013.

It is here that I will note how Segura was skipped over the Triple-A level entirely. The Brewers acquired him at the trade deadline in 2012 and almost immediately promoted him from Double-A. I mention this because I wonder if perhaps Segura had been rushed to the majors and if that impacted his ability to make adjustments at the plate.

It seems to me his inability to adjust to pitching could be to blame for his poor second half in 2013. It makes anecdotal sense anyway. He storms on the scene crushing pitching the first couple times around the league. Then the book is out on him and pitchers adjust. He can’t and he falters. That’s how you’d expect it to play out and that’s exactly how it did.

I’ve seen it dozens of times in articles over the years: you never know what you have in a prospect until you see how he responds to failure. Maybe that’s true or maybe it just sounds good. But I think there is some logic to this. All through the minors Segura never failed. Perhaps because of that he never really had the opportunity to learn how to readjust to pitching. Furthermore, it makes sense that it would take time for Segura to learn this skill.

Segura struggled for much of last season, but in August the Brewers began working on his swing mechanics. One has to wonder why it took them so long, but the results were (seemingly) immediate.

Month (2014) AVG OBP SLG
Mar/Apr .244 .277 .344
May .288 .313 .360
Jun  .196 .239 .294
Jul .179  .220 .269
Aug .250  .343  .283
Sept/Oct  .319  .364 .389

As you can see, Segura saw drastic improvement in his offensive results beginning in August. The power he displayed in 2012 didn’t return. But something like this should be viewed as a work in progress. Despite the lack of power, the results were still impressive.

We’re still just talking about two months. It’s just as possible the improvement was a small-sample-size mirage. This season will help inform us as to whether the mechanical changes were successful and to what extent.

Month (2015) AVG OBP SLG
Mar/Apr .279  .303  .360
May .286  .344 .482
Jun  .206  .218  .234
Jul  .417  .444  .467

His season so far has been somewhat uneven, but I would characterize it as largely successful. Obviously, June was an awful month for him, but again, viewed as a continuing work-in-progress, we shouldn’t expect him to always be good. Even the best hitters experience slumps. July is a good example of the opposite being true as well. We wouldn’t expect Segura to keep up a .417/.444/.467 just like we shouldn’t expect him to slump to .206/.218/.234.

We can see the impact adjusting his swing mechanics has had in more than just the raw numbers. His batted-ball profile gives us an indication of why he’s seen better results.

Month (2014) Pull Center Oppo
Mar/Apr 37.5% 37.5% 25.0%
May 32.3% 34.3%  33.3%
Jun  38.0%  35.9% 26.1%
Jul  35.8% 31.3%  32.8%
Aug 30.4%  35.7%  33.9%
Sept/Oct 25.0% 43.3% 31.7%

Again, we see what seems to be immediate success in August. To that point, Segura had a problem hitting the ball to the pull side an inordinate amount of the time. He did a better job of distributing his hits in August and September. It’s interesting to note his distribution was pretty even in May. That was one of his better offensive months as well, which adds more evidence.

Better distribution of balls put in play is especially important for a hitter the likes of Segura who hits a large amount of balls on the ground (he has a career average of 59.5 percent). As of this writing, he’s hit exactly 58.5 percent groundballs last year and this year. If a large number of them are going in the same direction, it makes it much easier for the opposing defense to field the ball. They can just employ a heavy shift to the pull side. I don’t have those numbers, but I suspect this is exactly what was happening to Segura.

So now we’ll look at his batted-ball profile this season to see if his approach has continued yielding the desired effect.

Month (2015) Pull Center Oppo
Mar/Apr 29.1%  30.4%  40.5%
May 23.3%  41.9% 34.9%
Jun 23.3% 44.4%  32.2%
Jul  22.2% 33.3%  44.4%

Clearly we can see the difference in his batted-ball profile from last year to this year. In 2015 he’s hitting balls to the pull side far less frequently. He’s doing a vastly better job of hitting the ball up the middle too.

Finally, we can see the effect this has had on just the groundballs he hits.

Year Pull Center Oppo
2014 40.9% 38.2%  20.9%
2015 32.9%  42.6%  24.5%

We do indeed see that his distribution of groundballs has improved from last year. By hitting grounders all around the field he’s making it more difficult for the opposing team to set up the shift and to defend against him. Unsurprisingly, his BABIP has shot up from .275 last year to .318 this year.

His fly-ball and line-drive distribution has altered as well, but I think due to the large amount of groundballs he hits, they’re far more responsible for his improvements this year. If Segura can find a way to tap back into some of that power he displayed in 2013, I have little doubt he can become a very solid contributor in the middle infield.

Segura’s .282/.310/.359 season slash line may not do much to instill confidence, but I think it obscures the very real improvements he has made. His 2.8 BB% is a major contributing factor. He will never walk much, but he has to do better than that. At 25 years old though, there is still a lot of time left for him to grow with the bat. And I think he’s showing an ability to adjust at the plate that wasn’t there one or two years ago. Count me among his believers.

Lead photo courtesy of Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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