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40 in 40: Jean Segura

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The biggest acquisition of the offseason is an instant upgrade at shortstop. How big of a boost will he be?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Washington Nationals Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

We’re all trained, by now, to look past just one year of numbers, especially when the previous few years are completely contradictory.

But when faced with new evidence, when we can see the difference in action, how long does it take for us to trust that this may, in fact, be the new normal?

SS Jean Segura came to the Mariners this offseason in the highest-profile transaction of the Dipoto regime, as they flipped SP Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte for Segura, OF Mitch Haniger, and LHP Zac Curtis. Earlier that same November day I had advocated the Mariners target a different shortstop in his mid-twenties for a Walker-Marte package. After looking into Segura and the secondary pieces received, I was quite pleased with Jerry Dipoto’s alternative solution, however, for 2017 and beyond.

That confidence, however, is rooted in faith that he’ll be closer to his 2016 numbers (.319/.368/.499, 126 wRC+, 5.0 fWAR) rather than the two years prior to his breakout campaign (wRC+ of 67 and 63, respectively, and a combined 0.3 fWAR).

Yet I think there’s good reason for that faith, based on the positive changes for Segura sticking, and the anchors on his heart and his performance being left in the past.

First, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane, right up between third and second base.

Fangraphs

The Mariners have not been as star-crossed up the middle as they have at many positions, but it’s been fifteen years since they had even a simply average offensive shortstop. By default, Jean Segura will step onto the field in 2017 and be the best hitter to man short in Mariners teal since Alex Rodriguez. Segura’s numbers last year will be nearly impossible to replicate for several reasons, including unsustainable fortune with balls in play (.353 BABIP, vs. a .314 career line), a shift from hot, hitter-friendly Arizona to a less swampy but still moist Safeco, and the simple fact that he has never hit that well before in his life. Segura doubled his 63 wRC+ from 2015 into a star-level 126 in 2016. The Mariners can’t expect that again, but plenty suggests Segura’s spike is here to stay.

The adjustments Segura made entering the 2016 season are well documented. He broke out a refined approach, intentionally leaving high pitches be and focusing on choosing pitches he could drive on a line all over the field. Segura’s chances of contact didn’t change much, but his patience and power transformed to levels exceeding his breakout 2013 season. He saw more pitches, took more balls, and, impressively, was one of the best hitters in the MLB in using the entire field to hit. Segura made a mechanical adjustment to his swing as well, lowering his hands and improving the plane of his swing. As you can see above, Segura’s stance is almost Bagwell-esque, with a squat orientation that emphasizes minimizing distance between his hands and the ball. The shift was inspired by his new middle infield partner, Robinson Canó, who Segura described in no uncertain terms as “an angel,” and I’m sure he meant it in the good, non-Anaheim variety. Segura continues:

Segura’s struggles and adjustments have not all been physical. The 2014 death of his nine-month old son, Janniel, who was living in the Dominican Republic separately from Segura, was devastating. Segura was 24 years old at the time. There is no age at which loss seems appropriate, but this incomprehensible hardship that still haunts Segura, clearly, callously, also affected his performance on the field. In researching this tragedy I came across a truly heartwarming/heartbreaking photo of Segura and his son, which I do not feel comfortable embedding, but if you are compelled, it is here. The love is evident, and I suspect the survivor’s guilt, especially being in far-off Milwaukee on the fateful day, is devastating.

The trade to Arizona, according to Segura, helped him begin to clear his head. He still thinks of Janniel every day, but the guidance of Robbie, it seems, set him back to enjoying baseball again. The trade to Seattle, now, has invigorated Segura further, and it should invigorate you, too.

This quote, which I translated from an interview here by Héctor Gómez of Z Digital News in the Dominican Republic, gets at the essence of this Mariners team. Segura is a Dipoto guy, despite having been traded once previously by Jerry when they were both members of the Angels. He is a fantastic fit as a leadoff hitter for both old school and new school thinkers. Segura gets on base with aplomb and took advantage of that on his way to 33 steals in 2016. It may not look like much at first. Watching Segura run almost dodderingly, his two dueling centers of gravity seemingly affixed, affectionately, within his head and his ass, nothing good appears imminent. One moment he’s there, shambling ahead, and the next moment he’s taken another base from Yadier Molina.

Segura has played above average defense each of his three full seasons at shortstop, and should form a stingy left side of the infield with Kyle Seager. Speed, defense, and a decent capacity to C the Z: Segura is a Dipoto box-checker. He is also a Canó guy, and a Cruz guy, however, and that will be as important as anything else. The 27-year-old is in his athletic prime, has been well-liked everywhere he’s been, and is overjoyed to be here. If he feels comfortable and as safe as his name, the Mariners may have found themselves with one of the best infields in all of baseball.

Projections have Segura at just over 2 WAR, which would already be a roughly 3 WAR upgrade over last year at the shortstop position. He is not without concern, and his abysmal 2014 and 2015 loom large in his numbers, viewed on the page. See them. Know them. Believe in them fully, and think no more of it, if it suits you. I won’t tell you you’re wrong. I see a bit more in Segura, and that may be necessary if any of the Mariners’ aging stars see their production slip. At minimum, though, shortstop in 2017 will be in manos Seguras.