The Mariners, who are operating with a pretty short-term competitive window, added Jean Segura right before Thanksgiving. Segura has been driving the headlines, and it’s no mystery why. He finished last year with a 5.0 WAR, and, for the sake of reference, that tied him with Joey Votto. It put him in front of Xander Bogaerts. To go a little more traditional, Segura led the National League in hits by 10, ahead of Corey Seager. It was a breakthrough season for the 26-year-old, and his ability to play shortstop plugs what had been a glaring hole. There’s no question that Segura fits the profile of a headliner.
Many who’ve written about the Mariners’ side have written about Segura. Many of the quotes from Jerry Dipoto have been about Segura. But, at risk of sounding like Dave, I have to wonder — was Segura really the Mariners’ best get? Or will we eventually reflect on this as being the move that brought Seattle Mitch Haniger?
There’s a little bias in our coverage. It’s not a pro-Seattle bias, or an anti-Arizona bias. It’s a bias toward wanting to appreciate underappreciated players. It’s easy to appreciate Segura — he just had a phenomenal major-league season. And it’s easy to appreciate Taijuan Walker‘s starter potential. Walker might be the sexiest asset here; he still has the big fastball, and everyone loves to dream on a potential ace. For Walker, it could all click, and it could all click as soon as next March. Yet, for Haniger, it might’ve already clicked. It could be the only thing he’s missing is a track record.
It’s funny — Segura is a big-league veteran. Haniger’s still essentially a rookie. Segura has come to the plate 2,500 more times, and yet there’s just a nine-month difference in age. If Haniger is anything, he’s a late bloomer. The explanation would be that, a year ago, Haniger overhauled his swing. This was detailed a little bit in Dave’s earlier article, as Haniger didn’t understand why other, smaller players were hitting for more power than he was. He made some changes, and I don’t know if he could’ve had more promising results.
I know that Haniger wasn’t great in a small sample in the majors. We’ll get to that. First, in his Double-A league, there were 118 batters who came to the plate at least 200 times. Haniger finished third among them in wRC+. And then, in his Triple-A league, there were 187 batters who came to the plate at least 200 times. Haniger finished first among them in wRC+. You want dominance against high-level competition? Haniger was fantastic in the upper minors. He walked, he hit for power, and he didn’t really have a strikeout problem. His contact rates were in the vicinity of average.
In the majors, Haniger’s results were subpar. There’s definitely no ignoring that. And yet, he didn’t have a swing-and-miss problem; his contact rate was right on the average. He didn’t have a chase problem; his out-of-zone swing rate was better than average. The discipline was there, and from Haniger’s swing plot, you can see his approach:
Haniger’s a righty, and he likes the pitch in. In part this is because he stands back from the plate. He doesn’t spend a lot of time fishing. He looks for inner-half pitches to drive, and he doesn’t get too tempted by pitches away. If a pitcher has good precision, that tendency can be exploited. Haniger’s long run worse-than-average rates of called strikeouts. Many pitchers aren’t consistently that precise.
Anyway, leaving that stuff behind, now we can draw from Baseball Savant. The smaller the sample of results-based data, the more we should care about the process. Or, to put it another way, there’s the scout-y output. And, in the majors, in terms of average exit velocity, last year Haniger ranked in the 95th percentile. In terms of average exit velocity on balls hit in the air, Haniger ranked in the 89th percentile. Segura, by comparison, ranked in the 63rd and 55th percentiles, respectively. Haniger showed that he could hit the ball hard, and he has an air-ball tendency, whereas Segura lets the ball go at a lower angle. Yeah, Haniger managed a major-league 81 wRC+, but there was patience and power, with average contact. That’s a fairly promising debut.
And then there’s the matter of Haniger’s defense. We can’t apply much data to this, because Haniger, again, has barely played in the bigs. But in the bigs, he played mostly center field. In the minors, he’s played a lot of center field. Reports say he moves well, and that he should be big-league capable. Haniger should be fine at a premium position, meaning he could be even better than fine in a corner. Segura is returning to a premium position after being just fine at second base.
What Segura has: He has better speed than Haniger, and better contact skills. He’s more of a threat on the bases. What Haniger has: He has a better eye than Segura, and better power. He shouldn’t be a negative anywhere. Segura’s history shows him to be able to handle the majors over extended stretches, and Haniger hasn’t had that chance yet. So with Haniger, so much is about projection. The both of them are coming off breakthrough seasons. Segura, two years ago, was terrible. Segura, three years ago, was terrible. Don’t overrate experience.
At last, there’s this part: Segura has two more years of team control. Haniger has the full six. And what sort of impact might be expected in 2017? We know that Segura is likely to play every day. With Haniger, that hasn’t really been decided. But to even things out, let’s consider the Steamer600 projection, which projects plays out over 600 plate appearances. Segura’s projection shows a 94 wRC+, with a 2.1 WAR. And Haniger? We see a 98 wRC+, and a 2.0 WAR. There’s plenty you could conceivably argue, but you could argue in both directions. You might really believe in Segura’s breakout, but it doesn’t seem fair to believe only in his. The same would go for just Haniger. So much of the optimism comes out of what happened in 2016, and both players had wonderful seasons.
When I first heard about the trade, I was naturally drawn to Segura and Walker. I didn’t care much about the other pieces, and this is the way we generally operate — we focus on the recognizable, top-tier assets. Yet there really is some potential present within Ketel Marte. And as has now been exhaustively detailed, there seems to be a lot of potential present within Mitch Haniger. That potential finally revealed itself last season, and even in the majors, Haniger showed all of his skills. Walker is the most electrifying player here. Segura is the obvious fit for a competitive lineup. And yet it’s Haniger who might well turn out to be the best asset. We love to talk about the players who aren’t talked about. Seems like it shouldn’t be long before more people are talking about Mitch Haniger.