Why Is Jean Segura In The Major Leagues? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

The baseball world was pretty impressed with the return that the Milwaukee Brewers were able to get for starter Zack Greinke last month from the Angels, most notably 22 year-old shortstop Jean Segura. After playing only eight games for AA Huntsville after the trade, the Brewers called him up, and inserted him into the starting lineup, where he’s stayed on most nights. Since then, things haven’t gone particularly well at the plate or in the field. Over his first 18 games and 66 plate appearances in the major leagues, Segura is hitting .194/.227/.226. In the field, while he’s certainly made some plays, he’s also committed three errors and neither UZR or FRAA have him as being above average with the glove. The natural question to ask, then, is why exactly is Jean Segura up at all right now?

There are two main reasons that teams summon prospects from the minor leagues: team need and player readiness. Let’s deal with need first. It seems pretty clear that the Brewers had little short-term need to summon Segura to the majors. Even with a recent hot streak, the Brewers currently stand 9.5 games back of the last NL wildcard spot. When they called up Segura to take the place of the traded Ceasar Izturis, they could have just as easily called up Jeff Bianchi, who is now up anyway, and split time at short between him and Cody Ransom. The team can just as easily finish somewhere around or just south of .500 with either of them as with Segura.

Moving on to readiness, when he was called up he had played 103 games above A-ball, 102 in AA and one brief appearance with the Angels right before being traded. That amounted to a total of 454 plate appearances, all in 2012. As a 22-year old in AA, Segura was sporting a solid-but-unspectacular .304/.358/.413 line. While it’s not uncommon for players to rush through or even entirely skip AAA on their path to the big leagues these days, it’s generally reserved for either the very best prospects or to keep pitchers out of certain awful environments for developmental reasons. Segura is a good prospect, but he wasn’t hitting with such authority in AA that the number cried out for a quick promotion to the big leagues.

It’s also possible that by looking a little deeper into the major league numbers, we can glean some information about just how ready he was to face big league pitching. According to fangraphs, Segura is currently swinging at 42.6% of pitches he sees outside of the strike zone. That is higher than all but three qualified major league hitters and is over 10 points higher than the big league average of 30.5%. He’s making contact with those pitches at a slightly-above-average rate of 71.7%, compared with 67.1% league wide, but he’s not making the kind of hard contact one would hope for. Overall, he’s putting the ball on the ground a staggering 68.0% of the time, which is higher than any qualified player in MLB and more than 20 points higher than the 45.2% league average. Yes, his BABIP might be .231, but it’s not a fluke, rather it’s because he’s swinging at everything and making very poor contact as a result.

The Brewers didn’t really stand to gain much from having Segura up, at least in the short-term, and he doesn’t seem to be overly ready for the assignment, at least so far. So, again, why is Segura in Milwaukee? The only reasonable explanation is that the team must have been looking at this move with more of an eye towards the future, specifically next year. With the Brewers deciding not to trade either Corey Hart or Aramis Ramirez at the deadline, it seems pretty clear that they are intent on trying to make the playoffs again in 2013 and that they would like to give Segura a chance to be the starting shortstop in that effort. It’s a nice thought, and Segura is somewhat close to the majors, but is it really in his or the team’s best interest to have been up the last month?

There are two main areas of concern when it comes to calling up guys earlier than necessary from the minors. First off, there is the possibility that this could stunt his growth. It’s not unheard of for young players thrown into the big leagues to either overreact and make poor adjustments or just lose confidence. It is less than measurable, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of it right now, and it’s impossible to prove anyway, but it’s at least worth mentioning. What is very tangible, though, is the issue of service time.

If the team had waited until late next April to call him up to the big leagues, they could have gained a full extra year of control over Segura, pushing back his free agency date from after 2018 to after 2019. For those not familiar with MLB service time rules, players need to accrue six full seasons before becoming eligible for free agency. For a player to get a full season, they need to spend 172 days in the major leagues either in one year or in parts of multiple years. This is why teams often wait until late April to call up top prospects, as if there aren’t 172 days left in the season when a player is called up and he has no previous service time, he cannot accrue a full year that season and the team essentially can get almost a complete year out of the player without him getting a year closer to free agency. Manipulating this rule is something that small market teams simply have to do whenever possible, to try and keep players under control as long as possible because, once players are eligible for free agency, teams often can’t afford the price tag for market value deals.

In essence, the bet the Brewers made on Segura’s service time is this: calling him up in August 2012 will make him a better player in 2013 than he would have been had they not called him up, and the result of that will be significant enough to have an impact on a pennant race. It’s going to be awfully hard to determine the outcome of the first condition, as it’s not really something that can be measured accurately. The second part, though, should be fairly easy to determine. If the Brewers don’t contend and/or Segura doesn’t produce towards that end, then it should be clear enough that the team rushed Segura to the majors unnecessarily. The best case scenario in cases like this is always that the player and the team succeed, and the Brewers certainly wagered on that outcome this time. Ultimately, only time will tell if that bet was a smart one or not.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Josh says: August 29, 2012

    One little thing that I saw in the article which is incorrect. The Brewers by calling him up did not waste a year of service time as the angels had already called him up before the deal. Milwaukee did not lose a contract year as that was already done by the Angels

    • Ryan Topp says: August 29, 2012

      It was one day. That just means they have to wait until there are 170 days left in next year instead of 171 to call him up and avoid having 2013 count as a full year of service. You just have to count days.

      • Eric says: August 29, 2012

        So doesn’t this mean that the Brewers would have to wait until early June next year, assuming they don’t send him back down early next month?

        • Ryan Topp says: August 29, 2012

          Now, because he’s been up, yes. Had they just left him in the minors, no. every day he’s up counts against him.

  2. Doug Melvin says: August 29, 2012

    This sounds like arguing.

  3. drwood says: August 29, 2012

    it’s pretty clear to me why they promoted him–they wanted to know if they could go into 2013 w/o signing a SS.

    I think you all have it wrong regarding service, unless I didn’t understand what you are saying. they have him for 6 more years regardless. only issue is if he doesn’t stay up 2013 and beyond, and the team seems to believe he will.

    • Ryan Topp says: August 29, 2012

      If he doesn’t get to 172 days between this year and next, 2013 will not count towards his 6 control years. That will obviously be more difficult now that they burned this time, which was one of the points I was making.

      • drwood says: August 29, 2012

        doesn’t seem like an issue. either they sign someone for 2013 and he stays in AAA, barring an injury on the ML team, or he stays up all 2013, and the service in 2012 doesn’t really matter.

        • Ryan Topp says: August 29, 2012

          Or they could have just kept Bianchi or Ransom around for a few weeks in 2013, and then brought up Segura. It wouldn’t have been difficult to do, other than trying to sell it to fans for a couple of weeks. If that’s what’s driving their decisions, then we’re really in trouble.

          • drwood says: August 29, 2012

            but then they wouldn’t have given him an audition. melvin wants to make a check next to: “SS taken care of for 2013,” before he goes to the offseason.

  4. Ryan Topp says: August 30, 2012

    I know why they’re doing this. I wrote as much in the piece above. My point was to question it’s justification. I pointed out that his history didn’t scream “ready” and that his numbers in the majors have done nothing to disprove it.

    Melvin may want to check off shortstop for next year now, but that doesn’t mean he can simply make that happen because he wants it to be so. He rushed Segura up to the majors and this is what’s come of it. Ultimately, we’ll have to wait until next year to fully judge how wise a move it was. All we can say right now is that things haven’t gone well so far.

    • RealGoHard says: August 30, 2012

      I would have been almost equally as excited to track Seguras progress in aaa had they simply promoted him. It doesn’t appear he’s ready at all and it doesn’t seem that he will be by next spring at this rate. it will say quite a bit about his makeup if he can start in aaa next year (if performance dictates) and learn and perform well. I fully agree that this callup was premature.

  5. Clay says: August 30, 2012

    What is interesting is that if you look at how Mike Trout was handled last year. He was brought up and played, more or less, like an overwhelmed player. However, he did show flashes of greatness but without consistency. Seguras now has shown some quality; his 2nd or 3rd game when he got his first brewer rbi and game 3 vs. Cubs. This shows the team he has ability to perform at this level. Now, they just need to get consistency because there are a ton of prospects who never even show ability at the MLB level. Even better next year they follow how the Angels treat Trout and bring up Seguras in late April early May; let him dominate AAA for a little while.

    • Ryan Topp says: August 30, 2012

      I get what you’re saying, but it’s dangerous to compare Segura, who is a good but not great prospect, to a generational talent like Trout. Trout was up at 19, Segura is 22.

      As for bringing him up late next year, I don’t see why they would do that unless he’s just completely overwhelmed in spring training. If he’s up the rest of this year, he’ll need to stay down into late June next year to avoid having 2013 count as a full season. Judging by how they’ve handled him so far, there is little chance of that.

      This decision has been made, and it’s going to be hard to undo what they did.


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