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The Dodgers May Have Found the Next Justin Turner

Over the past few seasons, there seems to have been an uptick in power breakouts for hitters. J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve, and Daniel Murphy are examples of guys who dramatically increased their power output seemingly out of nowhere. One of the most notable cases is Justin Turner, who transformed himself from a mediocre utility player with the Mets into an elite third baseman with the Dodgers. The Dodgers were rewarded for identifying a player with untapped potential and extracting that potential. Today I’m here to tell you that they’ve done it again, with Rob Segedin.

All right, a little background first. Rob Segedin was drafted in the third round by the Yankees back in 2010, and was traded to the Dodgers last year for pitching prospect Tyler Olson and KATOH star Ronald Torreyes. Despite having a pretty decent track record in the minors, he debuted in the majors just this past season and has never received much fanfare, even from the statistical community (the last article he was mention in on was a prospect report written back in 2012). Part of this is probably due to the fact that he’s usually been old for his level and never really hit for much power. The slew of injuries didn’t help, either.

Last year, however, all that changed. Well, the power and the health changed; he was still relatively old. Over 424 plate appearances in Triple-A last year, Segedin slashed .319/.392/.598 with 21 homers and a .279 ISO. That’s really good! The year before, his ISO was .136. Now, Segedin did move from Scranton to the PCL, which is significantly more hitter-friendly. But still, it’s hard not to be impressed with those numbers. And looking at his spray charts, the difference is stark (via MLB Farm).

Basically every home run Segedin hit in 2015 was pulled far left. In 2016 there’s a lot more action to center-left, and even some to the opposite field. And while, having looked over some footage, there doesn’t appear to be any obvious change to his swing, there’s another possible explanation for the sudden improvement. Segedin largely credits it to more consistent playing time after moving to the Dodgers organization – “It was a little frustrating for me last year to not be an everyday player and not get those everyday at-bats,” Segedin said. “I think playing for another organization was better for my career.” (Idec, Keith. “Baseball: Old Tappan’s Rob Segedin at Home in Dodger’s Organization.” The Record, 14 July 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.)

As mentioned earlier, Segedin had his big-league debut last year, so we have some MLB data to work with. And I’m gonna be honest. It doesn’t look great. Not on the surface, at least. In 83 PA, he slashed .233/.301/.370, good for an 83 wRC+. The great power numbers he had in Triple-A didn’t seem to translate, as he posted a mediocre .137 ISO. So yeah, that’s not very encouraging.

But there’s reason for optimism! For one, despite the low ISO, his exit velocity was pretty good. Rob Segedin’s average EV last year was 91.6 MPH, which is the same as Carlos Santana and Evan Longoria, and puts him higher on the list than Edwin Encarnacion. Segedin’s problem was less about hitting the ball hard, and more about putting the ball in the air: his average launch angle was 8.6 and his ground-ball rate was 52.8%. Which is a major problem (it’s hard to hit for power when you hit everything on the ground), but it may not be as bad as it seems. For one, it was only 83 plate appearances, and though GB% stabilizes pretty quickly, there’s still a good bit of noise in that sample. Also, remember what Segedin said about inconsistent playing time hurting his performance? Well in 18 of his 83 plate appearances, he came to the plate as a pinch-hitter. In those 18 PA he hit a whopping 24 wRC+ , as opposed to a 99 wRC+ when playing as a regular. I mean, I know that’s a ridiculously small sample, but it fits the narrative, so here we are. For what it’s worth, he’s batting .444/.500/.944 with 2 home runs in 20 PA this spring.

It’s kinda hard for me to look at Segedin’s current situation and not be reminded of Justin Turner. That said, he’s probably gonna strike out a bit more than Turner did. And he might struggle to find playing time in a crowded Dodgers infield. So there probably isn’t quite as much upside. But all the signs of a Rob Segedin breakout are there. All he needs is the opportunity.

Kershaw vs. Arrieta: Battle for the NL Cy Young

Now that the regular season is over, it’s time to talk about awards. I mean people were already talking about awards, but now it’s time to really start talking about awards. Perhaps the most hotly contested award this year is the NL Cy Young. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Jake Arrieta are in three-headed race for the award, and they’re all incredibly close in terms of quality of performance, making it nigh impossible to pick a single winner. So I thought I’d give picking one the old college try. For simplicity reasons I decided to only compare Kershaw and Arrieta, who seem to be the two most often pegged as deserving in the sabermetric community. So, let’s dive in.

First things first, Kershaw has a pretty significant advantage when it comes to FIP metrics. His 29 K-BB% is seven percentage points higher than Arrieta’s 22%. Kershaw’s huge lead in strike-zone control more than makes up for the fact that he’s let up home runs a bit more often than Arrieta (10% and 8% HR/FB rate respectively). Boiling it down, Arrieta’s 61 FIP- trails behind Kershaw’s (52) by almost ten points.

Where things start to get murky is when one looks into their contact management ability. On the surface it appears Arrieta has a leg up here. Their IFFB% is basically identical. But as I mentioned before Arrieta has given up a few less home runs, and has also induced more groundballs.

Arrieta’s production on groundballs is also much better: he’s allowed a .377 OPS on grounders to Kershaw’s .468. Although it’s not that simple, because all defenses are not created equally, and the quality of the fielders behind you can have a big effect on the production of the groundballs you induce. So in that respect it’s worth noting that the Cubs ranked 6th in UZR/150 among all teams, while the Dodgers ranked 13th.

But there’s other ways of determining groundball production. Grounders that are pulled, generally, are more likely to turn into outs than grounders hit to the opposite field. Thus, it would make sense that a pitcher who gets batters to pull their grounders more often would have better production on their grounders, regardless of the quality of his team’s defense. So who’s induced pulled grounders more often? It turns out Arrieta – although only by the slightest margin. He’s induced a pulled groundball on 0.052% of his pitches, while Kershaw’s done the same on 0.047% of his.

So the difference between their pull rates is essentially negligible. But there’s more ways yet to evaluate groundball production. For instance, the velocity on those groundballs. Logic dictates that it’s easier to field a slow-moving groundball than a fast-moving one. After all, slow things are generally easier to pick up than fast things. Thus a pitcher who is more disposed to generate grounders of modest velocity is more likely to have better production on those groundballs, once again regardless of defense.

To figure out who had been better at coaxing soft grounders, I employed Baseball Savant’s PITCHf/x search tool. I set the batted-ball type to groundballs for obvious reasons. I set the maximum batted-ball velocity at 80 MPH because I couldn’t find the league average and 80 seems like a reasonable number. As it turns out, Arrieta has produced soft grounders on a greater number of his pitches than Kershaw (4.4% to 3.6%). Again the difference isn’t huge (the separation between the best and the worst in this particular metric is only about 4.5%) , but further implicates that Arrieta has been the better manager of contact. To sum it up, It does appear as though Arrieta has an advantage in the contact-management department, but not as large as it looks at first glance.

At the end of the day, these are two similarly great pitchers having two great similarly great seasons, and both should be celebrated as such. But if I had to pick one for award purposes, I think I’d go with Kershaw. If only because I believe more in his strike-zone-control numbers than Arrieta’s contact-management ones.

Chris Archer’s Early-Season Improvements

After losing David Price to a trade with the Tigers and Alex Cobb to injury, The Rays needed Chris Archer to step up this season. Chris Archer then proceeded to step up this season. He’s carrying a 36 ERA-, 80 FIP-, and 69 xFIP-. His K-BB% is 23.6, better than his career mark by 10%. Obviously his numbers have improved. But it’s April, and the question everyone asks in April is are the improvements sustainable. Real improvements are the results of real changes, so let’s look for real changes.

One of the reasons for Archer’s success this year has been due to his ability to limit walks, which before had been a bit of a problem for him. Coming into the season he had a Zone% of 43.1 which is a tad below the league average. This year, that figure has increased to 54.4%. If you throw the ball in the zone more, you’re gonna get more strikes… more strikes means fewer times behind in the count… etc. You get the idea; good Zone% is good. But it’s not just that he’s throwing more pitches in the zone; Archer is allowing less contact on the pitches he throws there. Archer’s Z-contact rate has dropped by 4% from last year. So, to sum it up, Archer is throwing more pitches in the strike zone and hitters are making less contact when he does. This explains why Archer is getting more strikeouts and conceding fewer walks. What it doesn’t tell us is how he’s doing it. To figure that out, we have to look at his pitch selection.

According to the PITCH F/X data on FanGraphs, Archer was a two-seam-first pitcher last year – throwing the pitch nearly 47% of the time and his four-seamer only about 20%. The year, Archer’s increased the usage of his four-seamer by over 23%, dropping his two-seam rate to only 12%. This change is important because, thanks to work done by Jeff Zimmerman, we know that four-seam fastballs tend get strikeouts more often than their two-seamer cousins do. The four-seam isn’t the only pitch he’s increased usage for either: Archer’s slider rate has gone up to about 39% after sitting a little below 29% last year. Once again, this is good for strikeouts. Because, not only do sliders have the highest SwgStr% among pitch types after splitters, but the increase indicates Archer is more confident in his slider, which could imply that the slider has improved. You can say the same thing about the four-seam.

If you were looking for indicators that Chris Archer’s improved numbers have a level of sustainability, there they are. Those are real changes, from a real pitcher, playing real baseball. The Rays are gonna need an ace-level performance in their rotation this year to help alleviate the loss of David Price and the temporary one of Alex Cobb. It’s beginning to look like Chris Archer is the man for the job.