The New Jean Segura

Leading off and playing shortstop for the Seattle Mariners on Opening Day was one of the most compelling players to watch in 2017. From 2012 to 2015 with the Milwaukee Brewers, Jean Segura batted just .266/.301/.360 with a .290 wOBA and 78 wRC+, amassing 3.4 WAR. In 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he had a .371 wOBA and 126 wRC+ on his way to a +5 WAR season. What should be made of the breakout? While many people seem to expect heavy regression from Segura, there are compelling reasons to believe he is an entirely different hitter than he was in the past.

In spring training 2016, Segura was red hot at the plate, and according to Fox Sports’ Christian Peterson, a new batting stance and swing had made immediate impressions in Diamondbacks camp. Segura carried the spring success into the early weeks of the season, and Peterson asked Diamondbacks hitting coach Dave Magadan about the new stance, swing, and results from Segura: “He showed up to camp that way. He hit well from day one in spring and I never questioned it. Just left him alone. He says it makes him feel like he’s using more hands in his swing, less body.”

According to Petersen, Segura worked with Luis Mercedes, the former major league outfielder who also has worked with Robinson Cano and Edwin Encarnacion, over the winter in the Dominican Republic. When asked directly about the new stance and his early-season success, Segura said, “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.”

To see the changes for yourself, click this link. There, you will plainly see that Segura has changed his stance and swing dramatically. In the new setup, he has lowered his hands, which allows him to then fire them directly at the ball after his load, as opposed to his old swing, in which his hands went up and down numerous times before taking a pass at the baseball. The old swing looks exhaustively inefficient; the new one looks like it could be one of the best in baseball.

Getting back to the point about people not wanting to believe in the breakout season from Segura, it makes sense to be wary of breakout offensive seasons when there are no noticeable changes to the hitter’s mechanics or batted ball profile. It’s another thing entirely, however, when players make observable alterations to their stance and swing and have superior outcomes. Daniel Murphy, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Turner come to mind. There’s no denying that Segura has a new swing. And there’s no denying that his batted ball profile changed last year, too. Here’s how his batted balls from 2016 compared to his previous career averages:

Jean Segura Batted Ball Profile 2012-15 vs. 2016
Season PA GB% FB% LD% GB/FB HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
’12-15 1930 59.4% 23.1% 17.5% 2.57 6.6% 26.7% 42.0% 31.3% 23.0% 54.1% 22.9%
2016 694 53.1% 27.8% 19.1% 1.91 13.5% 31.4% 36.4% 32.3% 16.2% 54.1% 29.7%

Major changes across the board. Segura reduced his ground ball rate by 6.3%, and increased his fly ball rate by 4.7%. He hit the ball hard 4.8% more often and hit the ball softly 7.8% less often. He more than doubled his HR/FB ratio. In 2015, Segura’s average exit velocity on balls in play was 87.3 mph; in 2016 that number jumped by 2.6 mph to 89.9 mph.

From 2012 to 2015, the average major league hitter (pitchers excluded) homered on roughly 10.8% of his fly balls. Despite playing half his games in hitter-friendly Miller Park, Segura homered on just 6.6% of his fly balls in that span. In 2016, however, Segura homered on 13.5% of his fly balls, compared to the 12.9% league average.

Segura ran a career-high .353 BABIP last season. It was just .301 from 2012 to 2015. Even though he dramatically reduced his ground ball rate and increased his fly ball rate last season, Segura still hits more grounders and fewer fly balls than the average player, and his line drive rate is near average. With his speed and ground ball and line drive tendencies, Segura should be the type of player capable of running a high average on balls in play. In the past, one thing that could have kept Segura from high BABIP’s may have been his talent level. Now that he has a new swing, however, it is entirely possible that the talent level has changed.

A common knock Segura, however, is that he was helped out by playing extra road games in Colorado, but the numbers don’t bear that out. Segura played 66 of his 75 road games (88%) in non-Colorado cities, and among those road games 79 of his 96 hits (86%), 15 of his 20 doubles (75%), both of his triples, and six of his seven home runs (86%) did not occur in Colorado. Those percentages show that Segura was good on the road regardless of opponent. (Unfortunately, I was unable to find a way to simply look at Segura’s road numbers and filter out Colorado; this would have been much simpler than giving you his percentages of hits.)

While he may never repeat the career-high BABIP or HR/FB rate that led to career numbers across the board, Segura seems like a relatively safe bet to exceed his Depth Charts projection of a .305 wOBA. Projection systems don’t always handle breakouts well, especially when the changes in performance are the result of mechanical alterations.

It’s clear that Segura changed his swing, and it’s clear that he performed dramatically better at the plate with the new swing. For Murphy, Turner, and J.D. Martinez, the new swings eventually led us to disregard their inferior previous career numbers. It is at least possible that Segura will be the next name on that list. With the 2017 season finally here, now is when we get to find out.

Ben Kaspick is the host Locked On Giants, a daily San Francisco Giants podcast on the Locked On Podcast Network. He is also a former contributor for the baseball statistics and analysis websites RotoGraphs and Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter @BenKaspick.

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7 years ago

Also important to note that Segura had a horrible tragedy in his life- 3 years ago, I believe. While I absolutely agree that mechanics are huge, it is much harder to factor in personal struggles and the mental mindsets of players. I like Segura a lot, and I really appreciate this piece. I thought he looked “different” at the plate, but now I know for sure he is different. Thanks for the article.