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The Curiously Goodish Marcus Semien

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Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you were around in 2015 you still instinctively hold your breath every time a ground ball is hit to shortstop. If you’re like me you also wonder, each year, if this might the “breakout season” for Marcus Semien — maybe with full health and a few years under his belt, the El Cerrito native is poised to finally put it all together.

In reality, Semien is somewhere in between those scary first few months and his breakout potential. What Semien has shown, in pieces, could be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle to produce a legitimate All-Star. Take his 27 HRs in 2016, put it with last season’s 9.8% BB rate, cite a career 80% stolen base rate, maybe zoom in on a recent stretch of solid fielding, and you can see the possibilities.

On the flip side, partly due to injuries Semien has yet to show consistency in power, OBP, defense, to where you can breathe easy that he has established a career norm. Ultimately, what we seem to have in Semien is a player who is “good” at many aspects of the game yet isn’t quite “great” at any of them.

With a K-rate consistently around 22%, Semien is a career .248 hitter who is off to a good start with his batting average — following two excellent series he is currently batting .278, but most likely he will settle into a “good but not great” .250-.260 BA.

Semien’s OBP currently sits at a “solid but not spectacular” .336 for the season, which is up from his career .309 and might be the single most promising aspect of his developing game. Yet it is still far from elite, just high enough that batting him at the top of the order has turned out to be a good idea more often than not.

As for his slugging and homerun power, again Semien provides more of a threat than many shortstops can but isn’t really a slugger. With 3 HRs and a .426 SLG so far this season, Semien currently sits at a career slugging percentage of .410, suggesting that his 27 HR season was a bit of a fluke. .426 is solid...but not spectacular.

On defense, Semien has certainly come a long, long way from the nightmare of 2015. Fangraphs actually loves him so far in 2018 (+14.0 UZR/150, +2 DRS), but it’s still a tiny sample (226 innings) and follows consecutive seasons of negative UZR and DRS ratings. So you might conclude that Semien’s defense is improving, but you would be hard pressed to argue that it has improved beyond at best “a tick above average”. Certainly watching Semien on a daily basis you have to concede that were it not for Matt Olson the numbers would not look so good — Semien has been charged with 4 errors this season but has had more than a few sinking and sailing throws saved by Olson. In other words, at shortstop Marcus has at best been solid but not spectacular.

There is some room for optimism when you consider that in all 4 areas (BA, OBP, SLG, defense), Semien’s numbers are up from his 2015-17 norms. And at age 27 there is a chance he is still improving having not yet peaked. Trouble is, what he has improved to is a player with a lot of strengths but those strengths do not eclipse that “maybe a tick above average” level.

As a base stealer, it is more of the same. At 40 for 50 in his career, Semien’s success rate is very good but he is far from a big threat on the bases. He picks his spots and seems to pick them well, but has not stolen more than 12 bases in any season (11, 10, 12, and 2 so far this year). Running the bases, he definitely has above-average speed but he is nowhere near the level of a Jorge Mateo, Kevin Merrell, even Boog Powell.

Good at a lot of things, but not great at any? Is this the “Jack of all trades, master of none” moniker? Or is there a Semien in there who can hit for the kind of batting average he is currently showing, the power he flashed 2 years ago, last year’s BB rate, the ability to swipe bases more often without being caught more?

Is there anything Semien is actually great at? Does it matter? (He is currently on pace for 5.8 WAR, so even with some regression he looks like he will turn in a valuable season.)

Lots of questions, and 3+ seasons in still not a lot of answers.

Poll

Which statement most accurately reflects your views on Marcus Semien?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    He is still improving and is on his way to being an All-Star
    (101 votes)
  • 44%
    Better to be good at many things than great at one thing
    (238 votes)
  • 33%
    He is an average player and those are valuable too.
    (183 votes)
  • 1%
    He isn’t good enough at anything to be truly valuable
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    He will regress into profiling as the mediocre player he has always been
    (8 votes)
540 votes total Vote Now