Amid Mariners’ Struggle to Streak, Segura’s Skid Hard to Ignore

In their continued flirtation with mediocrity, the Mariners have dropped two straight games to pull within one of .500, and while blame may be pointed in several directions, Jean Segura has begun to draw the ire of fans.

Note: “FA” includes both 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs. The pitches were separated whenever possible in data collection. 

A few solid weeks coming off the All-Star break has done little to hide a steep drop in production from the Mariner’s leadoff man in the season’s second half. A stellar triple slash of .349/.390/.482 (138 wRC+) has plummeted to just .228/.297/.305 (65 wRC+) since the return of summer baseball. His perpetual placement at the top of the order has hindered the M’s ability to score consistently, and with a generally hit-or-miss pitching staff, the team has struggled to build significant momentum toward a Wild Card spot. Dreams of overcoming a limping rotation start with the return of Jean Segura.

Part of Segura’s wildly successful first half was his ability to hit 4-seam fastballs. He clobbered them to a .434 wOBA with the support of a solid 88.3 mph average exit velocity (EV). Since the break, his EV on 4-seam fastballs has remained consistent at 89.0 mph, but he has found much more modest results with a .318 wOBA. He hasn’t forgotten how to square up fastballs, but he hasn’t been able to place them where he wants either. That is due in part to pitchers’ developing approach to Segura.

Prior to the break, pitchers worked both sides of the plate with their 4-seam fastball to Segura.

 

4-seam Heatmap pre-break
4-seam Heatmap pre-break

They seemingly left a few too many over the heart of the plate as well, but more importantly, laying off most of those outside fastballs didn’t pose an issue for Segura.

4-seam Swing% pre-break
FA Swing% pre-break

He did most of his damage on low-and-inside fastballs while also punishing some elevated mistakes around the middle of the plate.

4-seam SLG:P pre-break
FA SLG/P pre-break

But there are obvious cold zones inside and up-and-inside, and pitchers have taken notice. Although they haven’t thrown fewer 4-seam fastballs to Segura (38.21% pre-break Pitch% compared to 37.01% post-break Pitch%), they have altered their approach to him to try to expose his weak spots.

4-seam Heatmap post-break
4-seam Heatmap post-break

There is a distinct trend toward pitching Segura far up and inside and testing him outside. It seems likely that Segura’s penchant for swinging at inside fastballs has left this venue open for pitchers to attack.

For the most part, he continues to hack at those inside fastballs despite them not faring low enough for him, but he has started to oblige pitchers on the outer edge as well.

4-seam Swing% post-break
FA Swing% post-break

Given that his EV on fastballs hasn’t decreased, there’s an easy assumption that he is adjusting, but he may be tumbling the wrong dominoes by opening up the outside part of the plate.

Since the All-Star break, Segura has seen the changeups coming in more precisely low-and-away instead of spread across the plate.

 

 

And worryingly, he has begun to swing at them more often.

 

Because Segura is starting to offer more at outside fastballs as well, it is possible he has become vulnerable to changeups in the same area and is making poorer contact against them as a result.

While changeups don’t make up a large portion of the pitches Segura sees, they have kept him to a measly .208 wOBA the second half compared to a .514 wOBA in the first half. And a steep drop in his EV (from 87.6 mph to 82.7 mph) doesn’t support a luck-based turnaround here.

In addition to changeups, sliders, particularly from RHP, may also be presenting an issue for Segura.

He had a .360 wOBA against sliders from RHP in the first half compared to just a .219 wOBA in the second half. He has already pulled more groundballs on low and away sliders during this half than last, and some unproductive launch angles have done him in on a few hard hit balls. His second-half xwOBA of .280 against right-handed sliders is nearly identical to his first half mark (.281 xwOBA) so some poor luck could be in play, but his struggles here may be tied to the fastballs he has seen as well.

While the location of sliders from RHP has remained predominately low and away, Segura has started to make less contact with back-door sliders.

 

After seeing more and more inside fastballs, Segura could be developing a weak spot for those inside sliders that look good coming in until they dart toward the bottom of the zone.

Segura may have his work cut out for him; the situation could always be more complex too. The coaching staff better have their heads on straight for this one regardless. As talented as Segura is, history isn’t always left in the past, and the Mariners don’t want to be on the hook for any Brewers-esque campaigns from him.

All data from FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. 

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Jake Marisnick: A Fly Ball Revolutionary

At the major league level, there has never been anything special about the way Jake Marisnick swings a baseball bat. His career 66 wRC+ coming into the 2017 season is nothing short of bad, but his legs and glove have allowed him to carve out a nice career as defense-first outfielder for the Astros.

Cut to 2017 and Marisnick’s 129 wRC+ through the season’s first 3 months has raised some eyebrows. As we begin to scratch the surface of Jake Marisnick, we see a lot of changes behind an all-encompassing stat like wRC+.

Over 125 PA (55 games) in 2017, Marisnick has a .245/.328/.536 line. A .245 average is higher than I would have expected this year, but it was surely within the realm of possibilities. A .536 slugging percentage gives me great pause though. Considering Marisnick’s career SLG of .338 coming into 2017, this is an immense improvement. With such a large uptick in power, I like to consider physical changes first, so let’s take a look at a few changes in Jake’s batting stance.

2015:

J. Marisnick 2015 Pre Swing.png

First, note that this is from 2015. To me, there were no noticeable changes between 2015 and 2016. We see that pre-swing Marisnick is mostly upright, standing neither open nor closed with his hands kind of “floating” out in front of his chest. Here is a clearer image (from 2016) of his hands “floating” before they get pulled into the load.

J. Marisnick 2015 "Floating" Hands.gif

While this is a habit of comfort and not definitively an issue, it seems to force a load with over-involved hands and arms.

These days Marisnick sets up like this:

2017:

J. Marisnick 2017 Pre Swing

Marisnick’s pre-swing stance is now clearly open and less upright, and his hands are no longer floating but steady and drawn slightly back. The earlier engagement of the hands is most obvious when you note the change in position of Marisnick’s elbows between pictures.

Speaking of elbows, check out Marisnick’s back elbow in 2015 and in 2017.

2015:

J. Marisnick 2015 Back Elbow.png

2017:

J. Marisnick 2017 Back Elbow.png

Once his front foot touches down, Marisnick in 2015 has a high back elbow which straightens out his bat and perhaps lengthens the path of his swing. Marisnick in 2017 has a more angled bat as a result of a lower elbow, which creates a more direct path to contact.

Marisnick appears to have made attempts to see the ball better (open batting stance) and trim motions that lengthen his swing. In turn, these tweaks have helped Marisnick post the best contact rates of his career.

Jake Marisnick Soft% Medium% Hard%
2015 23.4% 52.9% 23.8%
2016 21.1% 52.6% 26.3%
2017 14.9% 52.2% 32.8%
Career 22.3% 52.7% 25.0%

Although Marisnick has always had a “just put it in play” bat, he has consistently hit fly balls too often to maintain a passable average and on-base percentage.

Jake Marisnick LD% GB% FB%
2015 19.7% 41.9% 38.4%
2016 19.3% 45.2% 35.5%
2017 16.9% 36.9% 46.2%
Career 20.5% 41.8% 37.8%

This year he’s hitting even more fly balls. A bump in hard contact is a bit general to support this change though, so let’s look at exit velocity (EV) on just fly balls. We see that in 2016 Marisnick had an 88.5 mph average EV on fly balls whereas this year he is sitting comfortably at 94.1 mph. That 5.6 mph increase was among the biggest jumps from 2016 to 2017, sharing company with the likes of George Springer, Scott Schleber, and Wil Myers. Ultimately, Marisnick has transformed his fly balls from near auto-outs (pre-2017 career: .172/.167/.487) to legitimate weapons (current: .345/.333/.1.276).

This is not a comprehensive analysis, but certainly, this iteration of Jake Marisnick is not one we have seen before. Should we expect his 129 wRC+ to hold up all year? No. Pitchers adjust, and his climbing K% (35.2%) leads me to think his AVG/OBP may tank if the power doesn’t come down to compensate. But I believe regressing to his previous self is equally unlikely. He may just be a fourth-outfielder type, but a Jake Marisnick that can run, field, and at least kind of hit is not a Jake Marisnick I want to play against.

Is Chris Taylor really this good?

The Dodgers’ Chris Taylor is becoming a hot topic amongst the baseball community as of late, so Kevaghn dives deep into his hot start to find whats driving it.

As we bear witness to his scoring hot start to 2017, we should begin to wonder when and how drastically Chris Taylor will begin to fade. Surely, no one expects him to keep up his robust .395/.521/.684 triple slash over an entire season, but a revamped swing and approach give credence to his profile as a legitimately improved player.

A spray-and-prey, line-drive oriented approach worked well for Taylor in the minors, but major-league pitching gave him more than just some fits. In two stints and barely a cup of coffee with the Seattle Mariners over 3 seasons, Chris Taylor hit no home runs and just 12 extra base hits in 256 PA, good for a .240/.296/.296 line overall or a 71 wRC+. In May of 2016, he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for fading pitching prospect Zach Lee in a trade that is just now producing dividends for LA.

Taylor has not been a proponent of the “fly ball revolution” given that his launch angle on fly balls and line drives is lower with the Dodgers than it was with the Mariners (incredibly SSS be damned), but in his 48 PA since his call-up from AAA in 2017, he has hit the ball incredibly hard, leading to a 219 wRC+. Currently, Taylor’s average exit velocity (EV) is 3rd in the league (no batted ball event qualifier) at 95.0 mph, and his average EV on fly balls and line drives is 102.0 mph, or 2nd in the league. Before that excites you too much, let’s consider a couple variables, including other members of the leaderboard.

While Chris Taylor may sit 3rd in EV thus far this year, he is keeping company with notable power hitters, including Miguel Sano, Khris Davis, and Miguel Cabrera. Throw in first-full-year guys like Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo, and we see that not only does Chris Taylor stick out on this list, but he outright does not belong in the group. The formally light-hitting, defense-first prospect may have added a higher leg kick and a more efficient load to his pre-swing over the offseason, but I have a hard time believing he can swing it with the strongest guys in the majors.

I do, however, believe there are legitimate reasons for his current surge. In a sample size as small as 48 PA, some weird things are bound to happen, and in the case of this SSS, Chris Taylor has fully taken advantage of the weirdness – and then some.

From his debut through 2016, Taylor saw first-pitch strikes 64.8% of the time. So far this season, that number is down to 43.8%, a near 7 percentage points lower than Bryce Harper’s 50.7% mark, which was the lowest among qualified batters in 2016. To highlight what a boon a first-pitch ball can be, we note the following data from across the league in 2017.

Count AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Through 0 – 1 .221 .268 .351 66
Through 1 – 0 .259 .377 .435 122

Not only has Taylor been given the advantage of starting 1 – 0 in a disproportionate amount of his plate appearances, but his Zone% is down to 39.9% in 2017 compared to 53.5% for the rest of his career. I don’t think pitchers have been quick to pitch around a resurgent Chris Taylor –rather, a new version of Chris Taylor has taken advantage of the dearth of strikes he is seeing. As pitchers haven’t challenged him, Taylor has had no problem flashing incredible plate discipline.

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
2017 16.4% 70.4% 37.9%
Career 22.2% 67.2% 45.3%

In theory, laying off pitches outside the zone almost entirely has allowed Taylor to constantly pick his spot to put a good swing on a bad pitch. Consequently, he is putting the ball in play to his pull-side more often and with greater EV across the board as noted earlier.

Year Pull% Center% Oppo% Soft% Medium% Hard%
2017 59.3% 22.2% 18.5% 3.7% 55.6% 40.7%
Career 37.1% 31.6% 31.2% 17.3% 55.7% 27.0%

While I would agree that his new swing has improved his ability to drive the ball, I do not think these metrics are indicative of budding power just yet. I am inclined to believe that as Taylor sees more strikes, his new swing will not be enough to boost his offensive profile to that of an everyday player. Although Taylor looks like an improved hitter to me, as pitchers start to attack him more aggressively and with updated scouting reports, his EV should take a significant hit, leading to a precipitous drop in his power numbers and his batting average as well, as his still low average launch angle may lead to too many ground outs in the long run.