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Mariners’ offensive struggles: Jean Segura

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What happens when the sparkplug stops sparking?

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

While the starting pitching hasn’t been sharp recently, the Mariners’ league-worst offense has been the primary culprit in their second-half swoon. This week and next we are going to take a look at some of the M’s sagging sluggers to see if there is any hope ahead for the worst-slumping culprits. First up is one of the most severely quicksand-mired hitters on the team: Jean Segura.

Segura was a lightning rod for the Mariners in May and June, posting a wRC+ of 149 and 138, respectively, and energizing the team after the news of Robinson Canó’s suspension broke. However, since missing time with an infected arm that knocked him out for a week towards the end of June, Segura has been trending in the wrong direction:

Jean Segura, pre- and post- zombie arm

Jean Segura AVG OBP SLG BB K Hard Hit %
Jean Segura AVG OBP SLG BB K Hard Hit %
3/29 - 6/20 .330 .359 .480 4.1% 14.2% 28.6%
6/25 - present .243 .282 .321 4.7% 10.1% 23.8%

The good news is Segura remains one of the best contact-monsters in the game, rarely walking but almost never striking out; the bad news is he’s not doing much of anything else. Two years after a 20-HR season for the Diamondbacks, he hasn’t pushed past double-digits yet this season. While the 20-HR season was probably an outlier, Segura does have enough in the bat to gap a double; he hit 23 doubles in the first three months of the season. However, he has just three in July and August. The power sap is seen in his drop in hard contact, down 5%. As Eno Sarris noted, Segura has lost almost three MPH on his exit velocity since June, and while Mitch Haniger has also lost a similar amount over that time, Haniger’s hard hit numbers have begun to rebound in August while Segura’s have remained depressed. Even in hitter’s counts, Segura’s natural aggressiveness but generally wimpy bat have resulted in a lot of flyouts, perhaps as a result of him feeling like he needs to carry the load for his noodle-batted team.

After a much-needed day off Tuesday, Segura returned to the lineup on Wednesday and showed some encouraging signs of improvement, taking a walk and also ripping a two-run single up the middle with an exit velocity of 95. He also stole a base, although he’s been caught nine times already in just 25 attempts for a career-worst 36%, again signaling that the Hitting Machine might need some servicing. On the Facebook broadcast [pause for collective shudder], Edgar Martinez talked about working with Segura over the off-day on loosening or unlocking his hands. Here’s how Segura was hitting back in May:

He takes a warmup swing in the box and sits back a little. His bat waggle is free and easy. Everything about his body language and posture looks relaxed and easy, even as what he does next is near impossible: Segura takes a pitch well off the plate and away and does just enough with it to get on base, and would eventually score the winning run. Here’s another example from earlier in the season of Segura taking the pitch that’s given to him and doing what he can with it:

However, Segura’s swing over the past month or so has looked tight and violent. He’s not sitting as far back; in attack mode, he’s perched forward, primed to hit. The looping bat waggle has become a tightly-coiled snake. Here, he’s also flattened his swing path some and is rotating his upper body much harder as opposed to staying open through his follow-through, as seen in the examples above.

None of these things are bad, exactly, and they wouldn’t be bad if they worked. From the follow-through as the bat wraps around behind him you can tell he’s swinging to do damage, but that damage has often played out in flyouts. He’s hitting way more fly balls now—just over 40% in July and August, almost double his 23% average in May and June—but doing less damage with them. What were dunk singles and gapped doubles rolling merrily to the wall in the first part of the season are now easily gloved flyouts. He’s also given up one of his offensive weapons: Segura didn’t have a single bunt single in July. In trying to put the team on his back, Segura has lost sight of what made him so effective over the first part of the season.

So is there hope ahead? Edgar Martinez, on the broadcast, said things “look better” after putting in some time with Jean working on unlocking his hands, but the tone of his comments made it seem like there was work yet to be done.

And there are good things here, especially when compared to the previous image. The bat waggle is back to “cat’s tail while watching a bird through the window” even if not quite to the “cat’s tail while watching three birds through the window” level of earlier in the season. The follow-through looks less violent and the hips are staying open to the field of play rather than ratcheting around. This hit, a key two-run single that would draw the Mariners within a hair’s breadth of the Rangers before Zach Duke took a Zach Duke-y on the M’s chances to win this game, is a prime example of Jean Segura being Jean Segura: taking the pitch that’s given to him and engineering the best possible outcome he can.

Segura is someone whose emotions play a large part in his life, someone who feels things deeply. It’s what made so much of the fanbase fall in love with him in the first place: the hardships he’s endured in his career and the way he’s transmuted that to undiminished joy and gratitude in his play; his eagerness to adopt Seattle as his home; his genuine affection towards his teammates. Absent Robinson Canó, the man he credits with saving his career, and with everyone else mired in a team-wide slump, it makes sense that Segura would try to take on more than his fair share of the load. But what has made the 2018 Mariners great, when they have been great, is everyone just being themselves: the command pitchers commanding, the mashers mashing, the slap hitters slapping. The rest of the team needs to pull themselves together so Segura can get back to doing what he does best: being free and easy and Jean.