2014 Brewers Position Preview: Shortstop | Disciples of Uecker

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We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Starter: Jean Segura

Backup: Jeff Bianchi, Elian Herrera 

AAA depth: Blake Davis

The Future: Yadiel Rivera, Orlando Arcia

In the dismal era that was the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2013 season, Jean Segura was one of the few bright spots. Along with his all-star teammate, Carlos Gomez, Segura quickly became one of the few reasons to turn on your TV and watch plays like this:

While his work with the glove was fun to watch, it was his offense (.329 on-base percentage with 12 home runs) and base running (44 stolen bases) that put him over the top. His all-around game made him the sixth best shortstop in the majors according to the fangraphs wins-above-replacement metric. Not bad for a 23-year-old in his first full season.

A confounding aspect of Segura’s 2013 campaign was the holistic and steady decline of his offensive production from beginning to end. As the months passed by, Segura struck out more, walked less, hit for less average, less power and stole fewer bases at a worse rate. The fall from hitting 135 wRC+ (35% better than the average batter) in the first half to 57 (43% worse than average) left many fans wondering: Is Segura the real deal or just a flash in the pan?

The oft-cited explanation for the decline has been fatigue. A full season of major leagues after winter ball would certainly explain some aspects of the trend. Segura did not play baseball in the 2013-2014 winter to avoid the same fate in 2014, instead opting for some rigorous training with his Uncle Oscar. Fortunately for Brewers fans, many analysts and projection systems (see below) believe in his first half numbers much more than the subsequent decline.

The Backups

The Brewers are currently in spring training and trying to decide between Jeff Bianchi and Elian Hererra for the utility infielder bench position.

Jeff Bianchi is a classic utility infielder. He’s versatile and plays solid defense all around the diamond, but is unable to provide enough value with the bat to be a regular starter. The product of the Royals’ farm system had a particularly rough 2013 at the plate and will be looking to impress in the Cactus League. He is out of options which means he’ll either be on the Brewers’ bench or go packing for the next town over.

Former Dodger Elian Hererra was picked up on waivers by the Brewers in the offseason. Hererra is a special defensive player who can man any position on the field (a “super utility” fielder similar a current Brewers minor leaguer, Josh Prince) and swing from both sides of the plate. His patience and walk rate can make him a fringe-average hitter (i.e. better than Bianchi). While his few innings of work at each position aren’t enough for the defensive numbers to be reliable, versatile players such as Hererra rarely tend to be poor defenders.

Down in the minors, defensive whiz Yadiel Rivera will likely be ticketed for AA, where he’ll really need to take a step forward with the bat soon if he’s going to have a major league career.  A bit further down, Orlando Arcia has frequently appeared on the Brewers’ top prospect lists because of his eye opening talent at the young age of 19. Kiley McDaniel of scout.com grades him as a possible above-average defender and a contact hitter that could generate gap-to-gap power. (For more on Kiley’s evaluation of the Brewers’ prospects, go to brewers.scout.com or listen to our conversation on the Disciples of Uecker Podcast, episode 9, here).

Best Case Scenario:

Jean Segura performs as well as he did before the all-star break. Ron Roneicke figures out a way to keep him healthy and fresh through the entire season. Orlando Arcia takes big steps forward in high-A ball.

Worst Case Scenario:

Jean Segura is more of his second half incarnation and has a hard time punching the ball through the infield. The home runs that scraped the wall in 2013* turn into fly-outs and Segura ends the season as a 1 win player.

Orlando Arcia struggles with the bat in the offense depleting home stadium of the Brevard County Manatees and projects to be yet another utility infielder in an already weak Brewers’ farm system.

Most Likely Scenario:

The power numbers stay steady with a slight decline. The stolen bases and infield hits stay alive making Segura a 3-4 win player. Jeff Bianchi or Elian Herrera or Mr. Wavier Wire is competent back-up. Orlando Arcia turns 20 years old.

Segura PECOTA projection: .276/.315/.396
Segura ZiPS projection: .284/.322/.422

Bianchi PECOTA projection: .241/.282/.331
Bianchi ZiPS projection: .240/.279/.323

Hererra PECOTA projection: .248/.310/.346
Hererra ZiPS projection: .243/.307/.327

* according to ESPN’s home run tracker, nine out of 12 of Segura’s home runs were classified as “just enough.” (http://www.hittrackeronline.com/homeruns_special.php?league=&type=JE)

ZIPS projections and other statistics from fangraphs.com
PECOTA projections from baseballprospectus.com

This week on Disciples of Uecker:

3/10: Ryan previewed the catcher position

3/11: Curt previewed first base

3/12: Jonathan previewed second base

3/13: Steve previewed third base

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. David says: March 14, 2014

    No talk of Hector Gomez? His bat would need to come around a little more but isnt he better defensively that Herrera?

    • Vin B says: March 14, 2014

      Honestly there’s not a big difference between utility infielders. The manager will go with the one he trusts and likes. Over a 100 or so PA it really doesn’t matter.

      • 2ndHS says: March 14, 2014

        “It doesn’t matter who is on the bench.” It’s one of those things people have come to believe that really isn’t true. In 2013 Bianchi started 54 games and played in 100 total. He had 252 plate appearances which is roughly a third of what a regular would have.

        The impact of a reserve player is less than that of a starter. However it does matter. Based on games played and plate appearances we can estimate it could matter about 1/3 as much. When you’re on the cusp of contending like the Brewers are, every little bit matters.

        The Brewers are going to have to decide which is more important to them in a utility player: Offense (Herrera) or Defense (Bianchi). Though I will admit if there are two platoons (1B & 2B) Herrera gets an extra advantage in that he can play the outfield.

      • Vin B says: March 14, 2014

        Yeah Bianchi shouldn’t be getting 250 PA. That happened because Aramis was injured, the team was losing and the Brewers had no organizational depth at that position.

        Compare that to the depth in the OF. Logan Schafer is the 4th outfielder. But if Davis or Braun were to go on the DL, they would call up Gindl who’d be a much better replacement than Schafer would be. However, Schafer has a +glove and can back up center field and may be better served as the bench guy.

        Org depth is very important. Utility bench players? not as much.

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