Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang is an American classic. I don’t care that Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 43% rating on its Tomatometer. Rotten Tomatoes is stupid. I don’t care the audience score is only 59%. 41% of people have no taste. It has a young Halle Berry looking mighty fine, John Witherspoon showing us how to coordinate, and Grace Jones telling us what the essence of sex smells like. Then there’s Eartha Kitt, an old who keeps trying to seduce Marcus Graham, played by Eddie Murphy, by purring, Marcus, Darling, every time she sees him. This brings me to Marcus Semien of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Athletics weren’t fond of him, as they refused to pay that man his money. Offseason drafters haven’t been particularly enamored with him, as he is the 15th shortstop and 134th overall player being selected in NFBC drafts. Many are saying that he’s an old whose best days are behind him. So, will Marcus be a darling or is he someone we should be disregarding?
Semien is 30 years old, 6′ 0″, and 195 pounds. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox. From the get-go, he displayed a power/speed combo with a high walk and low strikeout rate. He got a cup of coffee in 2014 but then was traded to the Oakland Athletics at the conclusion of the season.
In Oakland, he started immediately at shortstop. The walk rate was 7%, the strikeout rate was 22%, ISO was .147, BABIP was .312, and the slash was .257/.310/.405. He hit 15 homers and stole 11 bases in 601 plate appearances. He hit 27 home runs the following year but settled into being a 15/10 player with a .250 average, 9% walk rate, 20% strikeout rate, .300 BABIP, and .140 ISO. During this time, he was being selected outside the 200 range in NFBC drafts.
Then 2019 happened. Oh, what a year! 33 home runs, 123 runs, 92 RBI, 10 stolen bases, 11.6% walk rate, 13.7% strikeout rate, .237 ISO, and a .285/.369/.522 slash. The BABIP was .294 so it wasn’t luck infused. As a result, he was being selected as the 88th overall player before the start of the ‘Rona-infested season.
53 games later, a .223/.305/.374 slash with seven home runs and four stolen bases. Is this the start of the New World Order or will Semien’s production boomerang back? Let’s dig in.
The walk rate was 10.6% while the strikeout rate was 21.2% last season. The strikeout rate was much higher than in 2019 but wasn’t too different from his career history. The ISO was .153. Again, much lower than 2019 but within career numbers. The slash was a career-low and the .260 BABIP was well off career numbers, so some bad luck can be attributed.
The GB/FB ratio was 0.71, the lowest number since Triple-A in 2014. In 2019, he hit 41.1% ground balls and 38.9% fly balls. Last season, it was 32.9% ground balls and 46.6% fly balls. The infield fly rate was a career-high 16%. Looking at the Statcast numbers, the launch angle was 19.3, a career-high. Hmm, did he make a swing change? I could not find any mention of that so let’s keep digging and see what we can uncover.
The approach looked to be the same, as he pulled the ball 43.5% of the time. The hard-hit rate plummeted to 28%. That number was 41.7% last season but was in the 30% range prior to that. So, a slight decrease from career norms.
The swinging strike rate was 9.3%, elevated but nothing egregious. He swung at slightly more pitches but the contact rates dropped off substantially. Z-Contact% was 83.4%. In 2019, that number was 89.6% and the prior two seasons were at 88.3% and 85.3%. Looking at the heat maps, Semien was better at laying off pitches in every quadrant except for lower-in. Inside the strike zone, he had more difficulty low-and-away, and inside. This partially explains the increased infield fly ball rate as the middle-in and middle-up zone saw significant increases in popup percentage. So, he was whiffing and making more weak contact on pitches inside and in the upper regions of the strike zone.
Looking at the pitch tracking data, pitchers threw fastballs 60.5% of the time, a 3.4% increase from 2019. Now it’s starting to make sense. His timing was off and pitchers proceeded to pound him with fastballs because he couldn’t catch up.
In an interview with Bradford William Davis of the New York Daily News, Semien said that his usual routine during the offseason was disturbed due to COVID. As a result, his conditioning, strength, and hitting stroke were off.
Then in August, Semien suffered a rib injury. “I was tinkering a little bit after slumping and I think that over time, my work in the (batting cage), just trying to change stuff…I started to feel this pain in my ribcage.”
So he did make a swing change! Ahhhhhh.
Now he’s with the Blue Jays, who want their hitters to grip, rip it, and launch it towards the sky. He’s also joining what should be a stacked Blue Jays offense with George Springer, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Roster Resource currently has Semien batting second, but I think Biggio is the number two hitter with Semien down at six or seven. Regardless, that lineup is stacked.
He also leaves Oakland Coliseum for TD Ballpark and possibly Rogers Center. Oakland Coliseum was ranked 31st for runs and home runs while Rogers Center was first for runs and second for home runs. TD Ballpark at Dunedin had a percentile of 65% for runs, 47% for home runs, and 86% for BABIP compared to all the other minor league parks. Buffalo, where the Blue Jays played last season, had percentiles of 76% for runs, 88% for home runs, and 38% for BABIP. Regardless, both ballparks should be much more hitter-friendly than the one Semien called home the last few seasons.
Rudy has Semien projected for a .256/.336/.439 slash with 22.3 home runs, 89.7 runs, 77.3 RBI, and 10.2 stolen bases. He’s the ninth shortstop according to our half-robot, half-human, all amazing wizard. Our mustached maestro, Grey, has Semien as his 12th shortstop. NFBC drafters have him as the 15th shortstop. Que? He’s going behind Tommy Edman, who Rudy has projected for a .265/.317/.407 slash with 69.5 runs, 53.2 RBI, 13.5 home runs, and 14.6 stolen bases, good for his 19th shortstop. What am I missing here?
Expecting 2019 numbers from Semien is folly, as that looks to be an outlier year but a 20/10 player with a .256/.336/.439 slash and upside due to ballpark, lineup, and division get even Lady Eloise wet in the panties.