Buy, Sell, Hold: Should you invest in Jean Segura after hot start?
The baseball world little noted when Arizona acquired Jean Segura from Milwaukee in a five-player deal at the end of January, but Segura is doing what he can to make sure it remembers him as a Diamondback.
Segura’s torrid start to the 2016 season is one of the more unlikely events we have seen this April. Through Tuesday’s action, the 26-year-old is hitting .347/.374/.558 with four homers, four doubles, two triples, 11 runs, 15 RBIs and three steals. That’s the definition of filling up the box score. The only other player to hit each of those thresholds, not including doubles and triples (since they typically aren’t fantasy categories), is Bryce Harper. Jose Altuve has more runs than Segura, but not as many RBIs, and Mookie Betts and Eugenio Suarez are both one RBI shy. Segura, in other words, has been nothing short of excellent.
The purpose of the Buy, Sell or Hold Committee is to figure out whether this is for real—whether Seguar has lasting power—or if it’s simply ephemeral and destined to fade by time summer arrives.
It’s convenient that Segura and Altuve have similar numbers to this point of the season. The two share one trait most strongly, and that is the proclivity to put the ball in play. Neither middle infielder has walked or struck out much in his career: Coming into this season, Segura had a career strikeout rate of 13.9% and walk rate of 4.1%. This year, however, his strikeout rate is 11.6%; that’s excellent. His walk rate, meanwhile, is 2.1%, which translates to two walks in 95 plate appearances; that’s atrocious.
You would probably guess that a player who puts the ball in play that frequently and has a .352 batting average has a high BABIP. In this case, you would be right; Segura’s BABIP is .368. In some ways, he’s earning that. Segura has four infield hits and a 9.3% infield-hit rate that jibes with his speed. He’s also hitting more than two ground balls for every fly ball, and while the latter can do more damage, the former find holes far more often.
In other ways, however, Segura is getting lucky. His line-drive rate is just 17.9%, and he has hit the ball hard 21.3% of the time he has put it in play. Those rates rank 136th and 178th in the majors, respectively, and neither are very good. Four of Segura’s well-struck balls—his home runs—don’t count toward BABIP, but they wouldn’t save him here. Add it all up, and Segura has an expected BABIP of .334. If he were actually hitting to that number, his rates would be down significantly from where they are.
Getting back to the good, there is some evidence that Segura has matured as a hitter. He’s not swinging nearly as much as he used to, with a swing rate down at 48.2% from his career 49.9%. More importantly, his outside-swing percentage—the rate at which a hitter swings at pitches out of the strike zone—is 32.7%. His low for a full season is 34.5%, and his career rate sits at 36.8%. Selectivity is the best way to get pitches to drive, and Segura has taken advantage of his newfound measure of discipline.
Over his career, Segura has struggled mightily with sliders and changeups, hitting a combined .253 with a .075 isolated slugging percentage when putting those two pitch types in play. That has not changed one bit this year. What has changed is how often he swings at those pitches. Coming into this season, Segura offered at 55.9% of the sliders he saw and 53.9% of the changeups. This season, those swing rates are down at 53.7% and 47.5%, respectively. That’s reflective of Segura getting into good counts and having a sound approach at the plate.
At this point, we’ve done a hopefully comprehensive job explaining why Segura has been successful in his first month with the Diamondbacks. Now we get down to brass tacks: It’s time to sell Segura.
First of all, start with the fact that he’s going to be attractive on the open market. We’ve seen Segura post numbers like this before when he had a monster first half with the Brewers in 2013. His hot start could easily be spun—and this would be at least partially true—as him rediscovering himself thanks to a refined approach. He’ll remain at the top of a potent order with a green light to run from Chip Hale, likely resulting in 600-plus plate appearances, boundless run-scoring opportunities and a floor of 25 steals. There’s a market for a player like that with eligibility at two positions, one of which is among the shallowest in the game.
Second, Segura’s low walk rate and high BABIP unsupported by his batted-ball rates suggest a sharp downturn in production is nigh. Even if he continues to hit for increased power, he has a ceiling of 15 home runs, and that is truly a best-case scenario. The BABIP fairy is fickle, and when Segura’s bill comes due, his rates could come crashing down. If and when that happens, he could be no more than a two-category player.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Cubs
Some might see Fowler as a sell-high candidate. That’s going to happen when someone who isn’t Bryce Harper or Mike Trout has an on-base percentage near .500 and a .662 slugging percentage over the first three weeks of a season. But if you’re a Fowler owner, do not fall victim to that line of thinking, and if you’re a prospective Fowler buyer, do what you can (within reason) to get the Cubs' centerfielder on your team.
Fowler is probably not going to have a .478 BABIP all season, but he is doing everything right at the plate. His walk rate sits at 17.3%, his line-drive rate is north of 25%, and he’s hitting just shy of half the balls he puts in play hard, ranking second in the majors in hard-hit rate (Michael Conforto is first, for what it’s worth). Fowler plays almost every day and hits at the top of the best lineup in baseball. There is so much to like here, and it has been on display all season.
David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks
Peralta has hit for the better part of the first three weeks of the season, though the power had yet to show up until last week. He has a pair of homers in his last five games, as well as two doubles and a triple, and his slash line is up to .276/.330/.494 hitting in the middle of Arizona’s lineup every single day. It seems there would be a more artful way to say that he’s following up nicely on last year’s breakout campaign, but perhaps we’d need a Lord Tennyson of fantasy sports to find that way. I’m all we’ve got for the time being, however, so we’re going to have to live with the previous description. Peralta is well on his way to being a top-25 outfielder this season, and his ceiling remains inside the top 15.
Raisel Iglesias, SP, Reds
Iglesias’s first five starts of the season have been a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, he has a 3.49 ERA, 3.61 FIP and 29 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. On the down side, he has allowed 34 innings and seven walks, translating to a 1.45 WHIP. All those base runners and strikeouts have resulted in elevated pitch counts: He has made it through six innings just twice and has yet to complete seven innings this season. In his last start, Iglesias’s fastball didn’t register better than 90 mph until the fifth inning, and his average velocity is down more than a full mile per hour.
Some might turn and run when they see a pitcher like that, but the Buy, Sell or Hold Committee sees a buying opportunity, especially since it’s a pitcher of Iglesias’s caliber. This is a true buy-low candidate. Not only is he at his baseline value, but his owner could also be willing to sell. If you need pitching help, kick the tires on Iglesias.
Nomar Mazara, OF, Rangers
Mazara has been as good as advertised since getting the call to the majors, hitting .365/.417/.519 with two homers, two doubles and six RBIs in 56 plate appearances. Just as importantly, he has nine strikeouts and six walks, showing a handle of the strike zone that we don’t typically see from a 21-year-old. This is a completely different calculation if you’re in a keeper or dynasty league, where Mazara could be a star for you for the next 10 or 12 years. In redraft formats, however, his value may never be higher, and he’ll definitely have his fair share of suitors on the open market.
It’s not uncommon for a prospect to come up and play well immediately, especially one with Mazara’s pedigree, but it’s quite hard to keep on raking once the league makes its adjustments. There are also a few red flags in Mazara’s batted-ball profile. His hard-hit rate is a paltry 19.5%, and he’s hitting 1.73 grounders for every fly ball, a bad ratio for someone who projects as a middle-of-the-order player.
This is not, by any means, a “sell at all costs” recommendation. Mazara is a great player with a bright future who could very well win the AL Rookie of the Year award. With his value as high as it will likely be in 2016, however, you would be foolish not to make him available.
Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners
A cursory glance at the back of Hernandez’s baseball card for 2016 would suggest a 30-year-old pitcher with a lot of mileage on his arm who figured out a way to stem the tide that seemed to flow against him last year. Through 25 innings, he has a 1.80 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 24 strikeouts. Look deeper, however, and you’ll see the warning signs. His fastball velocity is down again, with both the four-seamer and sinker dipping to just better than 90 mph. He has issued 15 walks in his 25 frames, so while he’s fanning nearly a batter per inning, there’s a spread of just 8.5 percentage points between his strikeout and walk rates.
Hernandez struck out 16 batters across 13 innings in his first two starts, but has just eight in 12 innings since. If the strikeouts go, so, too, will a large measure of his effectiveness. He would still be a top-20 fantasy starter, but he wouldn’t be a fantasy ace. Given his cosmetic stats, you can likely get a top-10 or -15 price on him right now.
Eugenio Suarez, 3B/SS, Reds
Way back in March when we published our shortstop primer, I listed Suarez as a sleeper at the position. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Suarez for making me look good. The 24-year-old was the breakout player right beneath everyone’s noses after he hit .280/.315/.446 with 13 homers and 19 doubles in 398 plate appearances last year, and he has been among the best players in the league through the first three weeks. Even if he doesn’t remain at those heights, he has done enough in his nearly 500 plate appearances with the Reds for the fantasy community to believe in his production. He’s a hold, though, because his owners should not assume this is a sell-high situation. Suarez has the look of a player who will finish the season as a top-five shortstop.
Jeremy Hazelbaker, OF, Cardinals
Hazelbaker was en route to being in the sell section of this column until it was reported that Matt Holliday is just day-to-day and not dealing with a significant injury. Intuitively, Holliday missing time would make Hazelbaker a buy, given that he’d have a line on playing time mostly every day. But unless King Midas himself has taken up residence in St. Louis, the Buy, Sell or Hold Committee refuses to believe that the Cardinals have found a way to turn a 28-year-old rookie with a career .274/.329/.441 slash line at Triple A into the second coming of Stan Musial. An everyday gig for Hazelbaker would likely allow you to find a patsy in your league who believes in his hot start. If we get word that Holliday will miss meaningful time, Hazelbaker becomes a must-sell player.