Jean Segura’s career to date has been strange. The Los Angeles Angels signed him as an international free agent in 2007 when he was just 17. He was part of the Zack Greinke deal in 2012 when he ranked as the 55th-best prospect in baseball and the second best in the Angels’ system by Baseball America (believe it or not, Mike Trout was first).
Segura had a great start to his career in his first full year in 2013. In the first half, he hit .325/.363/.487 while playing shortstop full time, which garnered him enough attention to be selected for the All-Star Game. Though scouts projected Segura to hit to some extent, there were some red flags with that first-half performance. Nobody believed that Segura would hit as well as he did though he had a .349 BABIP and a 15.3 percent HR/FB ratio. Regression was predicted, but nobody foresaw what would happen in the second half of the 2013 season. He ended up hitting .241/.268/.315 for the rest of the year. While he hit 11 HR in the first half he hit only 1 HR in the entire second half. An 111-point drop in wOBA is generally unfathomable but it did come with a flukishly minuscule 2.3 percent HR/FB, although that’s not even close to explaining away such a massive drop in offense.
Compared to his disastrous 2013 second half, Segura was only marginally better in 2014 and 2015, during which he hit .252/.285/.331, good for only a paltry 65 wRC+. Only Omar Infante’s 60 wRC+ was worse among qualified players. Even with the low offensive bar at shortstop, Segura was a replacement level player in 2015. To make matters worse, it looked like he wouldn’t be staying at shortstop much longer. Not only did he have a lack of pedigree at the position (scouts never thought he’d last long there) but the Brewers’ shortstop of the future, Orlando Arcia, was setup to debut in 2016.
Feeling the need to move on from Segura, the Brewers decided to follow in the footsteps of the Braves and exploit Tony La Russa’s and Dave Stewart’s poor understanding of player value. Believing that first half 2013 Segura was still there somewhere — why they would believe that, I can’t imagine — La Russa and Stewart decided to acquire him in exchange for RHP Chase Anderson and SS Isan Díaz, the latter of whom is a fellow countryman who has become wildly popular among prospect hounds and media scouts.
Through all the well deserved criticism directed at La Russa and Stewart this year, they were lucky enough that the Segura acquisition worked out pretty well...and I do mean lucky, because there was no predicting he’d have such a good season.
Segura’s .315/.362/.482 line exceeds even his 90th percentile PECOTA projections. People frequently misunderstand projections, so let me put it this way: going into the season PECOTA gave Segura less than a ten percent chance of performing this well in 2016. So either Segura made a real change in his swing or it’s an unsustainable fluke. As it turns out, and perhaps unsurprisingly, t’s a little of both.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported early this season that Segura made a change in his batting stance. Segura lowered his hands in his stance, which allowed him to keep his hands inside the ball and get to it quicker. He has the highest hard-rate of his career at 29 percent, and his exit velocity is up a few miles per hour over last year, per Baseball Savant.
Still, an offensive improvement of almost 100 points of wOBA over the previous season is an awful lot. It’s possible for a swing change to result in a huge, sustainable boost in offense — just ask José Bautista and J.D. Martínez — but that’s not the norm. Segura benefited from factors beyond his control.
Segura plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark and has a .352 BABIP. His 12.1 percent HR/FB is almost twice his career rate going into the 2016 season, which was 6.6 percent. He doesn’t have big home/road splits, but he played nine games at Coors Field, where he hit an absurd .425/.500/.625 in 46 PA. Rockies starters are actually respectable this year, ranking 13th in DRA.
Let’s take a look at how Segura fared against some of the pitchers he’s faced the most. The right-most column is the combined wOBA of all batters versus said pitcher.
|Jorge De La Rosa||12||.333||.500||1.000||.580||.373|
Other than getting shut down by Madison Bumgarner, which happens to a lot of hitters, Segura overperformed against some good pitchers, though that can happen when dealing with such minuscule sample sizes.
It is highly unlikely that Segura is a true-talent .366 wOBA hitter. However, he made some real improvements at the plate. ZiPS projects his true talent as a .320 wOBA hitter, which is below average when adjusted for league and park effects. That’s still a big improvement over the last couple of years, and the projections aren’t aware of the changes in his swing. Segura could be a solidly league-average hitter now.
La Russa and Stewart plundered their farm system for little return, and as a result, the system plummeted from seventh-best in baseball in 2015 to 24th in 2016, per Baseball Prospectus. Selling high on Segura could help replenish the system. It’s unlikely that he’ll turn in another 4-5 WAR season, and he still has two more years of team control.
Brandon Drury is a league-average hitter this season, and though he had some defensive struggles, that’s mostly been the result of him playing out of position in the outfield. Scouts believe that Drury can be an average overall second baseman. At the very least, it’s unlikely that Segura will be so much better than Drury that it would be worth keeping him over the prospects he’d bring back.
To be clear, Segura wouldn’t bring back a big package of prospects, or even what the Diamondback gave up to get him. My guess is that he’d be worth one B-level prospect and one or two lottery tickets.
It appears that Segura became a better baseball player, but he’s likely to regress some next year. Though the argument can be made for keeping him, the Diamondbacks might be best served to at least see what they can get back for him. However, if I were owner Ken Kendrick or CEO Derrick Hall, I’d find somebody other than La Russa and Stewart to make that decision.
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Luis Torres is a Contributing Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.