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