In a general sense, it's hard to put too much stock into spring training statistics as a whole. Some guys take a bit to round into form, while others are tinkering with new stuff, be it altered swing mechanics or a different pitch. Some hitters benefit from facing largely fringe or full-time minor league pitching, while others might be overmatched in the opportunities they receive. In any case, it really is a shame for the Arizona Diamondbacks that spring training success doesn't necessarily translate over to the regular season.
The Diamondbacks have had as much success during the exhibition season as any club in baseball. Despite the emphasis on their pitching additions over the course of the offseason, it's their offense that has catapulted them to a 20-4 record during the spring. Specifically, a murky infield picture has become even cloudier with not only a surplus of players for only a few spots, but seemingly anyone and everyone that logs time in the infield managing to rake consistently this spring. In no case has this been truer, though, than that of Jean Segura.
Segura was acquired in the latter part of the winter from the Milwaukee Brewers in a deal that sent Chase Anderson, Aaron Hill, and shortstop prospect Isan Diaz to the Crew, while also bringing in pitcher Tyler Wagner. The deal seemed like a headscratcher at the time, and from different perspectives it may very well still be a puzzler (given the aforementioned plethora of infielders on the roster who are performing well in the spring season). But Segura is off to the type of scorching start that could make him a catalyst as a leadoff man for the D-Backs in 2016.
Through his 48 spring training at-bats, Segura has hit a cool .521, while reaching base at a .540 clip. Six of his 25 hits have been of the extra-base variety, and he's added five steals already, though only two walks to date as well. It seems as if any time one flips on a tilt that involves this Arizona team so far this spring, Segura is showing out and doing something positive. Given what we've seen the last two years from Segura in Milwaukee, though, it's certainly worth pondering whether or not this type of performance can carry on over into the regular season.
Segura's numbers in his last two seasons in Milwaukee don't paint the prettiest of pictures. When you compare it to what was a solid first full season in the big leagues, back in 2013, it gets even uglier:
Statistically, finding any semblance of an explanation for such a sharp decline from 2013 to the following two years isn't a terribly simple task. His BABIP did go down, from .326 that first year to figures of .275 and .298 in the following two years, respectively. But that doesn't really present the entire picture. Perhaps more than anything, his swing tendencies provide the insight into the reason for his struggles, and what could be an indicator of sustained success or a decline from this spring performance, when the regular season rolls around.
The overall swing trends don't change that much over the course of those three years, nor do the overall contact rates:
While there's obviously an increase in swing percentage, whether inside (Z-Swing) or outside (O-Swing) of the strike zone, the overall dip in contact isn't extremely significant. His contact on pitches inside the strike zone has never deviated more than 1.1 percentage points in his big league time. The most significant dip is in that contact out of the zone, where he fell from 77.1 in 2014 to 73.4 in 2015. That represents the most significant change across the board, in terms of his ability to make contact.
It is worth noting that Segura's ability to make solid contact has declined steadily over that same span. In 2013, easily his best year, he maintained a hard contact rate of 27.6 percent. He then went for a Hard rate of just 21.1 percent in 2014 and an even worse 19.7 percent clip in 2015. So to what do we attribute that change, and the subsequent decline? For one, it's hard to ignore his penchant for being a free swinger. In swinging at 53.9 percent of pitches in 2015, Segura offered at the 18th highest rate among qualified Major League hitters. And opposing pitchers exploited that.
Because of his rather cavalier treatment of pitch selection, Segura not only saw more breaking and offspeed pitches in 2015 than 2014, but swung at a great deal of them. He had an obscenely low 2.2 percent walk rate last season, which means opposing pitchers are going to be aware of his lack of patience at the plate, and they're going to exploit it, just as they have in the last two seasons. Should this be the expectation moving forward?
Probably. We haven't seen Segura change too much in his swing. The approach is still the same. He's largely swinging at the bulk of the pitches that he's seen this spring, though the data isn't widely available to support that. It's also important to consider that while Segura is making really good contact during the spring, the competition that he's facing on the mound may not be of the quality that he'll face when the regular season begins. So the quality of contact could decline and, perhaps subsequently, his BABIP.
That's not to immediately dismiss what Jean Segura has done this spring, even if putting too much stock into a player's exhibition performance is often a fool's errand. He looks to have taken advantage of that change of scenery and is hitting the ball hard. As a player with speed, he should be a valuable presence at the top of the lineup for Arizona. But with his penchant for hacking at a fairly consistent rate, the increasing trend of swinging at softer pitches, and the quality of pitching likely to improve, don't count on him being quite as dominant as he's been thus far in March.
Not that anyone would be. Hitting over .500 in a month is a tough act to follow. But at some point, he's going to regress back in the direction of the player that his approach forces him to be. For the sake of the Arizona Diamondbacks, one hopes that that's still a level above where he's been in the last two years.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.