The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Jean Segura in January to add another option to crowded, if uncertain, middle infield mix. He has not only established himself as the team's everyday second baseman, but through the early season has exceeded expectations in dramatic fashion. Following a combined 64 wRC+ over his two prior seasons, Segura may be in the midst of a break out in 2016, hitting .333/.360/.512 (good for a 128 wRC+) over his team's first 38 games.
Segura's .179 ISO is unprecedented power for the small, contact-oriented hitter. His hard-hit rate has increased year-over-year to 26.2 percent, and his ground ball rate has dropped to 55.9 percent, a career low. He is certainly making some higher quality contact, but a 60-point jump in BABIP is still probably disproportionate to those gains — as in all May stat lines, some regression is likely.
However, Segura is not only making better contact, but more contact as well. While his strikeout rate has never been high, his current 12.4 percent clip would be his lowest ever. Similarly, his 87.2 percent contact rate and 6.0 percent whiff rate would also be career bests. The driver of this apparent improvement seems to be some additional patience and an improved eye at the plate.
Segura is swinging less in the zone, but more noticeable is the drop in O-Swing percentage — his current 30.4 percent rate is far lower than either his 35.8 percent career rate or 38.5 percent rate in 2015. He's not only been more selective when it comes to location, as he has also swung less often at secondary pitches and whiffed less often at those same offerings.
Against offspeed pitches, Segura is swinging-and-missing at a career best rate. The difference against breaking balls is even more stark, as his current 7.1 percent whiff rate is less than half of his 2015 level. Importantly, he's avoided missing on breaking pitches down-and-away.
Maintaining this trend could benefit Segura in a couple significant ways. Broadly, down-and-away breaking pitches are a key weapon used by same-handed hitters, and improved recognition of those pitches could create more favorable counts and benefit his platoon splits. Otherwise, this is a trend that results in more balls in play; for a ground ball and speed hitter, that's positive, even if it doesn't result in much power production.
Jean Segura is one of the premiere all-fields hitters in baseball, so an improved ability to hit the outside pitch would likely further increase his opposite-field hit percentage (contact on away pitches leads to balled balls to the opposite field). In addition to the above observed change on breaking pitches, it seems that Segura is also avoiding higher pitches of all kinds as well.
Segura has swung more frequently at pitches inside, but he has cut down on swinging at pitches high in and above the strike zone. In 2016, he has swung at only 39.0 percent of pitches in the top-middle six zones of the above chart, compared to the 57.9 percent swing rate he featured from 2012-2015. Instead, he is far more frequently targeting pitches in the middle and lower thirds of the zone.
This trend helps Segura potentially avoid the most common area for whiffs on fastballs, as well as pop-ups. Focusing on the middle of the zone should provide the most solid contact, and the lower third of the zone is typically groundball city. His strikeout rate has always been low, but these two disciplined-based changes could see Segura avoid weak contact and reach base more frequently.
Although it may signal moderate regression in his abnormal isolated power figure, maintaining this discipline and groundball approach would put Segura on track to take advantage of his speed-based skill set. A few more months of his early season performance would go a long way to proving that his breakout 2013 season was not a fluke.