Good middle infielders are hard to find in any given year. Just ask the Cano owners going into 2014: new (and worse) team and stadium for a player who was consistently a first-round value. At least Cano is still producing this year, even if the home runs have dropped more than we’d like. Fantasy managers who gambled on Jason Kipnis and Jean Segura are suffering even more than Cano owners. In 5×5 production, Kipnis is ranked 16th among 2B qualifiers, and Segura is 15th among SS. So what happened, and is there any hope for a rebound in the second half?
It looked like Kipnis took a big stride forward from 2012 to 2013, with an improved BA and a few more HR. However, the high average was propped up by a very strong line drive percentage and therefore a BABIP well above the league average. It was more likely than not that his BA would fall, and this yea’s BABIP is more in line with 2012, meaning that a .250-260 range is a realistic range for him moving forward. If he wants to get above .270 he’s going to have to start hitting more line drives, and given that 2014 is his lowest LD% of his career, I wouldn’t bet on it.
What about the home runs? His HR/FB was 10% in 2012, improved to 12% in 2013, and has now fallen to 6% in 2014. Could he rebound in the second half? Sure, I could see a HR/FB in the 8-10% range for the rest of the year. However, what caps his HR production is a low fly ball rate, and especially this year when he’s not hitting as many line drives, that results in a huge grounders tilt of 48%. If you’re not hitting the ball in the air as often, your chance of a homer isn’t going to be high. However, his GB/FB isn’t ridiculously out of line from his previous seasons, so it really comes down to HR/FB and whether it can bounce back.
I looked at pitch type and plate discipline on FanGraphs to see whether there were any obvious differences to me. I didn’t find anything that really stood out and could explain away his struggles. He’s seeing more fastballs and changeups, and fewer sliders, but not by a large amount. When it comes to swinging outside the zone, Baseball Info says he’s doing it slightly more than 2012, and PITCHf/x says it’s less than 2012 so it’s a wash. What does stand out is that his swinging strike rate is the highest since his rookie season. Perhaps he’s pressing a bit, swinging hard to try to hit those homers, and he’s missing a bit more because of it? But even if that’s true, his K% is still better than last year.
The Verdict: It’s possible that he’ll never reach 20 HR in a season, and that 2013 was a bit of a career year. His BA could rebound a bit if he gets back to hitting more line drives and pushes his BABIP above .300. The running game is still in tact and he doesn’t get caught much so another 30 SB season is very possible. His power in the second half is anyone’s guess. Kipnis says that his right oblique strain, which landed him on the DL early this season, has affected his swing and therefore his power. I found no obvious metrics aside from the HR/FB drop to explain it, so if his oblique starts feeling better in August and September, maybe he’ll hit HR in bunches and reach 12-15 for the season. However, if the oblique issue lingers, then there’s a good chance that 2014 will have to be a write-off in terms of power. I wouldn’t knock his keeper value for the future. For redraft leagues, there are safer options, especially if you need power, but he’ll still give you decent SB totals along with league average R and RBI. His BA and HR are the wild cards.
Entering 2014, Kipnis had established himself as a strong option at 2B thanks to a solid 2012 and 2013. Segura had only one full season under his belt, and a lot of people thought he was a breakout star. However, that hasn’t happened this season. Let’s take care of the obvious first: his home runs. Segura started off hot in 2013 with 11 HR in the first half, and some managers who didn’t look at any metrics assumed he’d turn into a five-category stud. However, his inflated (for him and his minors career) HR/FB in the first half of 2013 was a warning sign. That hot start still kept his season percent at 10% despite a power outage in the second half of 2013 (1 HR, 2% HR/FB), but even 10% is too high for me. His HR/FB of 7% in the first half of 2014 is much more reasonable for a baseline moving forward.
Now, what’s happened with his batting average? His BABIP started high in 2013 and has dropped every half season since, through the first half of 2014: .349, .285, .257. Segura was lucky (and/or simply dialed in) during early 2013, but even with his speed, it doesn’t seem he’s the type of hitter to retain a BABIP well above .300. His BABIP has rebounded some after the All-Star break to .281, and that’s resulted in a .257 BA which is more in line with his 2013 second half. I’d set the BA expectations to .250-.260 moving forward this year. If he can get a few more lucky ground balls and his BABIP climbs to .300+, then maybe he’ll hit over .270.
The ground balls are certainly an issue regarding his game. First, his huge GB% (59% in 2013 and 2014, and 66% in his rookie 2012 season) implies that’s simply his approach. That fact emphasizes that he isn’t going to be a power hitter, and that his average (and BABIP) is partly dependent on the defense of the opposing teams. He’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone (3% higher than last season), which may explain why he’s making less hard contact.
What’s more troubling than his drop in HR is his SB issues. The smart managers knew that he wouldn’t flirt with 15 HR this season, but they could rely on his speed. Unfortunately, he’s getting caught far more often than he was last year, with 16 SB to 8 CS (compared to 44 SB and 13 CS in 2013). That may explain why he’s running less often right now: he’s not getting on base as much, and he’s giving away outs on top of it. That being said, I believe his SB should still reach 30 this year.
The Verdict: For redraft leagues, if you drafted him as a top-5 SS, you have taken a big hit in value. He’s not likely going to right the ship enough this season to be worth using for a playoff run. However, for keeper leagues, if his value is reasonable (i.e., you didn’t bid $30 on him this season because of 2013’s success), then I feel he can still right the ship. You’re looking more at an Elvis Andrus player with maybe a little more power, compared to a Jose Reyes in his prime. I do have one stat that may offer a glimmer of hope for owners of all sorts. For some reason he has an extreme reverse-platoon split this season. Lefties are killing him. Whereas he had a .317 BA against lefties last year, he’s posted a .163 this season. Maybe they’re throwing him something he can’t figure out, but more likely it’s an anemic .188 BABIP against lefties this season. Compare that to a .347 BABIP against lefties in 2013. There should be a happy middle in there for Segura, and any BABIP correction this season should help him out some.