You think about a playoff-contending team that really needs help at shortstop, and your mind immediately goes to the Detroit Tigers. Jose Iglesias‘ shin injury took him out of the mix before the season even started, and since Detroit never did go and get Stephen Drew before he returned to Boston, they’ve attempted to get by with a collection of odds and ends. They tried the ancient Alex Gonzalez, who quickly proved he was past his sell-by date. He gave way to Andrew Romine, acquired from the Angels during camp, with a touch of Danny Worth now and then. Romine’s wRC+ of 49 is the highest of that trio, so earlier this month they DFA‘d Worth and went with Eugenio Suarez, who has impressed in limited time and should hopefully prevent them from any further thoughts of asking first base coach Omar Vizquel to come out of retirement.
Maybe Suarez works out. Maybe he doesn’t, and the Tigers end up going out and getting Jimmy Rollins or Everth Cabrera or Ben Zobrist or Didi Gregorius or whatever shortstops become available. Either way, when the trade deadline gets a little closer and you start thinking about team needs, you’re likely going to think about the Tigers and their shortstops.
What you’re probably not going to think about are the Milwaukee Brewers, because they have a 24-year-old shortstop who made the All-Star team last year. They have playoff hopes, and they have Jean Segura. What they also have is a considerable issue.
The Tigers may get the attention, but you’ll notice that it isn’t them who show up on this list of the worst offensive seasons by team shortstops over the last 30 years (all stats prior to Tuesday night’s games).
It’s this year’s Brewers, thanks almost entirely to Segura, who has started all but seven games. Those 1999 Angels lost 92 games, giving Gary DiSarcina the last regular playing time of his career. The 2006 Rockies lost 86 games, mostly with Clint Barmes, before calling up Troy Tulowitzki late in the season. It’s not impossible to succeed with that kind of offensive futility — the 1984 Cubs made the playoffs despite an end-of-the-line Larry Bowa — but it sure doesn’t help.
If we look at only hitters over the last calendar year…
…you’ll again see Segura, unsurprisingly grouped with other middle infield types. (And also, Nate Schierholtz.)
Remember, Segura made a name for himself last year by hitting .354/.393/.550 through the end of May, a fantastic performance that was also propped up by an obviously unsustainable .382 BABIP. From June 1, that line fell to .261/.292/.354, with a much more realistic .296 BABIP. That’s a 76 wRC+. In 166 plate appearances with the Brewers in 2012, he had a 70 wRC+. ZiPS now projects him to be a 76 wRC+ player this year. Steamer has it at 75 wRC+. Both projection systems expend him to rebound somewhat — he’ll have to, to even get into the 70s of wRC+ — but it seems pretty clear, among all that, which two-month stretch stands out as being obviously different from the others.
It’s not that he strikes out excessively. It’s that he’s fallen into the Juan Pierre trap of not allowing pitchers to help him. Only 11 qualified hitters swing at more balls outside the zone; only seven walk less often. It’s pretty simple, really. Hit the bad pitches, and you’ll just put poor contact balls in play, all while costing yourself potentially more productive pitches in hitter’s counts.
As Segura has continued to make outs, manager Ron Roenicke has continued to move him around the order to try and find something that works. Segura hit second for most of the year before getting bumped to leadoff, now finally being dropped to eighth in favor of Scooter Gennett. But it hasn’t mattered; other than a hot week in late May after first being moved to the top, Segura has struggled all season and for more than a full calendar year.
This might not have mattered had the Brewers been as mediocre as most predicted, stuck behind the Cardinals and Pirates and Reds in a tough NL Central. But the Brewers got off to a fast start, and the Reds and Pirates (until recently, anyway) have each played poorly. No matter which flavor of our playoff odds, you prefer, the NL Central is going to be a tight race between Milwaukee and St. Louis. Finding a better option than Marco Estrada in the rotation would be a great start for the Brewers, but really, every win is going to count, so when looking for spots to upgrade, you naturally look towards the weakest. For Milwaukee, that just might be shortstop.
Obviously, we’ve talked only of offense to this point, and that’s not a shortstop’s only function. Segura is a roughly average defensive shortstop, depending on how you look at it, which is how he’s at least a replacement-level player this year as opposed to a Jedd Gyorko-level disaster, and last year he was a plus on the bases. And maybe it won’t matter, because the Brewers’ non-pitchers have been, on the whole, an above-average group this year. They’re still putting up runs, despite the hole at short. But as teams start looking into their needs over the next few weeks, don’t forget that the Tigers aren’t necessarily the only team that has a big hole at shortstop. So do the Brewers.
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