by Connor Henry
Guess the player: His triple slash since the All-Star break is .301/.387/.473 (.860 OPS). In that time he’s hit 3 HR, stolen 3 bases, scored 18 R and has only struck out 15% of the time. What if I then told you that this player is a shortstop available in over 50% of ESPN leagues? While he may never put up the gaudy stats of a Trevor Story or Carlos Correa, for a fraction of the price Marcus Semien is a player you can count on to be the backbone of your middle infield.
Coming in 2018 Semien was one of my favorite sleeper picks and dynasty targets who was going under the radar. Now, over four months into the season, the 27-year old shortstop has performed rather disappointingly. Despite hitting for a career best in average and surpassing his previous high in stolen bases, he has been one of the most “bleh” options you could roster at shortstop. Over the next 700-ish words I am going to try to convince you that he deserves to be rostered in all leagues and will absolutely be one of my sleepers again going into next year.
Let’s start with looking into his monthly plate discipline splits for 2018:
|K% – BB%||16.4||13.6||4.5||4.4||7.9|
As you can see, for every month except August (which is only halfway over) Semien has improved his K%-BB%. On top of that he is currently sporting the highest contact rate of his career (81.8%) while swinging and missing only 8.1% of the time. These improvements are leading to a career low 18.1% strikeout rate while not sacrificing walks. Semien is only 2- years old, so these are sizable improvements which hint at a noticeable change in approach.
Next let’s consider the quality of contact he is making:
|Soft Contact %||14.4||24.4||26.4||16.7||10.5|
|Hard Contact %||34.4||26.7||25.3||32.1||52.6|
Semien came out of the gate making a lot of hard contact and minimizing soft contact, which are both very promising signs. Unfortunately those tendencies took a downturn in the summer months, and with them his power basically evaporated. However, as of late he is making better contact than he ever has and is currently sporting a 50% hard contact rate in August. In addition to making more quality contact, July and August are also months where he has struck out only about 15% of the time which proves to me that he is not completely selling out for contact. If he has adjusted his approach and the improvements in his quality of contact are real, I believe better days could be ahead in both his batting average and power stats. Let’s consider his 2018 batted ball data in comparison to Charlie Blackmon and see if we can draw any conclusions:
Overall Semien and Blackmon have relatively similar batted ball profiles. They are both hitting line drives at an above league average rate while elevating the ball at similar rates and making comparable contact. In addition they are both walking and striking out at about 9% and 19%, respectively. However, the glaring difference in the numbers shown is the home run to flyball rate. I agree Blackmon is hitting the ball slightly harder and he does call Coors Field home, but I do not believe that Semien deserves to have a dismal 7% HR/FB rate. If that corrects back toward his career average of 10 or 11%, Semien’s triple slash will look much closer to .275/.340/.440 with more home runs to boot, not half bad for a middle infield option.
Lastly, Semien has speed. He has consistently stolen more than 10 bases every full year of his career and has always had a respectable success rate. Over the last 365 days he has stolen 18 bases and excluding May of 2018, where he seemed to struggle with reading pitchers, he has only been caught twice. If he puts his speed to use and is really let loose on the base paths I could see a 20-25 stolen base season in his future.
Semien is usually written off as this boring, “OK” option for your middle infield spot and I completely understand the reasoning. Coming into this year he was one of my sleeper picks and I confess he has underperformed sorely. Looking into his monthly splits more closely I still see the potential in his batting profile. He has the upside to hit 20 HR and steal 20 bases, and with continued improvement in his plate discipline he could continue to improve his batting average. That’s not to mention that he has ranked near the top of the league in defensive metrics this season, which will keep him on the field even if his bat is slumping. If he can put all his tools to use, get a couple more fly balls to leave the yard and continue to improve his plate discipline, the 27-year old will make for a solid shortstop for years to come.