Everyone, I assume, is well aware that Jerry Dipoto shuffled the Mariners roster this offseason like a man possessed. But few of the moves really stand out as blockbusters, with most of them being smaller deals to fill in the gaps. The team already had its core — Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez and James Paxton, to name a few — so it makes sense that the focus would be on supplemental players.
One player, though, does have a chance to be a core piece, if he is able to maintain his production from 2016, and that player is Jean Segura. Segura is coming off of a 5-win season (a career year), after two replacement level campaigns, so projecting him for 2017 is difficult (as though normal clairvoyance isn’t hard enough).
Looking beyond the production and into the nuts and bolts can provide a better idea of what caused his breakout, and hopefully at least lend us some insight into whether it will continue. In Segura’s case, we can see a sharp decline in his chase rate, as well as a jump in his hard-hit rate. Those are two important numbers for a hitter, and when combined with contact rate can provide a nice idea of the factors that underlie a performance.
So, I went to FanGraphs and found the seasons most similar to Segura’s 2016 in chase rate, contact rate, and hard-hit rate (back to 2002, when that data becomes available). The goal is to then look at those players’ follow-up seasons to get an idea of what a reasonable expectation for Segura may look like. Keep in mind there are plenty of limits to this: there’s more to the game than those three numbers, and there’s no guarantee he sustains them anyway. But this might at least tell us how sustainable they are.
Here’s our initial sample:
There’s a pretty wide range of performances there, which is a clear indication that chase, contact and hard-hit are far from all-encompassing. That said, only 4 of the 17 were below league average in wRC+, so we at least know that Segura’s rates generally lead to solid offense.
At the bottom, you can see the group averages, which include a 112 wRC+ and 3.5 WAR — a very nice season. Now, consider what these players did in the following season (note: Segura and Adam Eaton don’t appear, because they haven’t had follow-ups yet).
Off the bat, that’s not particularly encouraging. Some got better, and some stayed about the same, but as you can see by the averages, they mostly trended in the wrong direction. The average wRC+ and WAR fell to 102 and 2.2 respectively — closer to average than the good-to-great from the previous table.
Perhaps most interesting is that the average chase, contact and hard-hit rates remained fairly consistent. The largest variation was 1.5 percentage points in contact rate — chase and hard-hit were both within 0.1 points.
The most firm conclusion we can draw is likely that, while those three areas are important, they aren’t everything (which isn’t particularly helpful). The second is that it seems as though they are relatively stable from year to year, so the gains Segura made could very well be real. And it does seem as though the players who were better able to maintain their chase/contact/hard-hit were also better at maintaining their production.
Conversely, players like Conor Gillaspie and Shane Victorino struggled in one or more of the areas, and saw a sharp decline in their production. Gillaspie swung at balls more often, made contact less often, and saw his hard-hit rate drop by about 8 percentage points — his wRC+ followed suit with a 44-point drop. Victorino made a similar amount of contact, but his chase run increased by 6 points, while his hard-hit fell by 7 points, and in turn his wRC+ fell by 32 points.
We probably aren’t significantly closer to knowing what the future holds for Jean Segura, but we do have some evidence that he made some important strides last year that, if repeated, figure to keep him on a somewhat similar track.
A repeat is asking for too much, most likely, but even if he suffered the average regression from our sample above — 10 points of wRC+ and 1.3 WAR — he would still be sporting something around a 115 wRC+ and 3.5 WAR. That would be a massive upgrade over what the Mariners received last year from the below-replacement Ketel Marte, and would likely make Segura part of the M’s core.Next post: 2017 Wild Four Tournament: Semi-Finals
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