One of the more predominant spring training story lines at the Milwaukee Brewers' complex in Maryvale, Ari., this month will be the development of 23-year-old shortstop Jean Segura, who in his first full season of professional ball posted a .287/.326/.423 slash line with 44 stolen bases and earned a reserve roster spot on the National League All-Star team last July. It was a heck of a rookie campaign for the former Angels top prospect, and the Brewers may be on the verge of extending him in the near future because of it.
Source: #Brewers expected to discuss long-term extension with Jean Segura during spring training.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) February 16, 2014
But Segura's 2013 season also yielded a few concerns -- chief among them being his offensive inconsistencies from opening day onward. From April to the end of June, Segura mashed his way to a .327 batting average (sixth-best among qualified batters), .511 slugging percentage (best among qualified shortstops) and .873 OPS (also best among qualified shortstops). But from July to the end of the season, Segura's batting average dropped to .241, his slugging percentage fell to .322 (ninth-lowest for qualified batters) while his OPS descended to .613.
How could Segura go from being baseball's most productive offensive shortstop to one of his club's biggest liabilities in one season? It starts with his inability to lift the ball off the ground.
Segura ground ball rate by pitch location, April to June 2013
Segura ground ball rate by pitch location, July to September 2013
Segura struggled with ground balls throughout last season, posting a 57.6% grounder rate that ranked second only to former teammate Norichika Aoki (59.2%) among qualified batters last season. But as we can see, Segura's ground ball problem was much more overt from July on, where his 62.1% ground ball rate was the highest among qualified batters.
The most concerning part about Segura's increase in ground balls? Where those ground balls came from. Segura's grounder rate on pitches located out of the strike zone from April to June stood at 63.6%, and increased to 68.4% from then on. More noteworthy is his ground-ball rate on pitches in the zone, however, which increased from 50.2% from April to June to a whopping 60% (highest among qualified batters) from that point forward. On pitches located in the vertical and horizontal middle of the zone (essentially batting-practice offerings), Segura's grounder rate increased from 36.6% to 48.3%, too.
It's one thing to turn bad pitches into ground balls, but it's another thing to turn quality (or in-the-strike-zone) offerings into grounders at such an alarming rate, which Segura did toward the end of last season. If he plans on directing the Brewers' infield for the prospective future, he'll need to shore up this area of his game.