by Phoenix Desertsong, Lifelong Sports Nut
If you’ve been following Major League Baseball top prospects for even just a few years, you will know the name of Jurickson Profar. He was a highly touted prospect for a reason. On his 2011 Bowman Chrome Prospects card, you could see Jurickson simply oozing with talent. The smile on his face as he takes a practice swing in the photo screams a guy that just loves to play some baseball.
But, Profar didn’t get to play nearly as much baseball as he, the Rangers, baseball fans, and card collectors would’ve liked. Injury after injury kept eating into his playing time. When he would try to get a chance in the majors, he just couldn’t put things together before yet again losing a chunk of the season to some injury. Eventually, he finally got to play a full season, even if it took until 2018...
So, when he finally broke out with the Texas Rangers in 2018, it still felt like a disappointment. To hit .254 with 20 HR and 77 RBI - and stealing 10 bases WITHOUT being caught - would be a pretty nice season for most players. After years of getting hurt and not really establishing himself in his limited chances, 2018 was a nice break for Profar. He played all over the diamond, while mostly at third base and shortstop. Unfortunately, he didn’t rate well at any position on defense.
A Second Chance for Jurickson Profar?
The Rangers decided that they would sell high on Profar’s decent success with the bat and on the bases. They let him go to the Oakland A’s in a three team trade that netted them pitchers Kyle Bird and Brock Burke, as well as minor league infielder Eli White. Ironically, White is somewhat similar to what Profar has become - a guy without a position who’s useful enough with the bat and on the bases to have a role with some MLB team. Bird and Burke each had lousy MLB debuts, but both showed promise in the high minors.
The A’s were certainly disappointed in their return. They ended up trading Emilio Pagan and a competitive balance round draft pick to the Rays in the complex three team swap. Profar hit only .218/.301/.410 and was "worth" minus 10 runs at second base. Meanwhile, Emilio Pagan was one of the best relievers in baseball for the Rays. The Rangers are probably thrilled that they got what they did.
There were some positives. Profar still hit 20 HR. He stole 9 bases and was only caught once. The switch-hitter murdered left handed pitching. His batting average on balls in play was a piddly .218. Surely, you’d expect Profar to have a bit of positive regression, right?
A Third Chance for Profar with the Padres?
Being one of the most cost-conscious organizations in the league - to put it nicely - the A’s decided that they would cut bait on Profar. While a projection arbitration salary of $5.8 million is hardly awful for a guy who will likely perform closer to his 2018 than his 2019 results, the A’s decided to move on. They decided to swap their struggling infielder for catcher Austin Allen and a player to be named later.
After their trade of Luis Urias to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Padres had a three-way fight for playing time at second. Ian Kinsler was terrible in 2019. Greg Garcia is a useful utility Infielder quite likely stretched in full time duty. Ty France had monster AAA numbers and was the guy with the most upside. But, you can't blame the Padres for wanting somebody with Profar's pedigree.
Padres GM A.J. Preller is quite familiar with Profar from his days in the Texas front office. While the familiarity is certainly a factor, it's not like there wasn't a use for him. His Steamer projection for 2020 alone makes him a clear starter at second base even with his fielding difficulties.
Steamer 2020 Projection (125 games): .250/.331/.431, 18 HR, 67 R, 64 RBI, 7 SB
Because of his propensity for injury, his projection accounts for at least some missed time. But even if that time, FanGraphs has him bring worth 2.2 WAR. That's a slightly above average player. Going into his age 27 season and being projected to earn $5.8 million through arbitration is fine for the Padres. The A's just wanted to move on.
What did the Padres give up? Austin Allen didn’t impress in his major league debut, but scouts project him to grow into more of his raw power. He could be a nice find for the A’s, for sure, even if he’s just their third catcher at the moment. He’s not nothing, although a very underwhelming return considering what a star Profar was expected to be.
The good news for Profar is that he definitely has a starting job with the Padres. If he can get his throwing issues under control, he could be at least a passable defensive second baseman. As even a slightly below average fielder, his bat and speed are still good enough tools to make him a 3 WAR player. It would be good to see him hit the ball harder with more consistency. But, in just 2019, his expected wOBA was .323 VS his actual .301 wOBA was enough of a gap to show he was unlucky.
Will Profar reemerge in the baseball card hobby? Right now, it doesn’t seem like he will. It's highly unlikely he suddenly becomes a 30 HR & 100 RBI stud out of nowhere. Could he finally have some good batted ball luck and put together a really nice year, though? There may be some untapped potential there yet. In any case, it’s easy to like this trade for the Padres.
Marcus Semien 2018: A Career Year?
by Phoenix Desertsong
Baseball fans love talking about career years for their favorite players. The 2018 A’s had a lot of good years from a lot of their players. But one of those players, Marcus Semien, had a lot better season that his baseball card stats would suggest. In fact, what drove Semien’s career year success was not his offensive stats, but rather his defensive stats.
According to FanGraphs, Marcus Semien compiled 3.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2018. This beat his 27 home run “breakout” season in 2016, in which he earned 2.1 WAR. So, what took Semien from an average major league shortstop to an above average one? The key to his value lay in drastically improved defense at shortstop.
Marcus Semien has always hit for power. But he’s always suffered from low batting averages (career .249 BA), low on-base percentages (career .319 OBP), and erratic defense. He actually wasn’t bad on defense in 2015, but he was “worth” -15 defensive runs between 2016 and 2017. So, what changed?
Marcus Semien and His Improved Defense and Defensive Stats
A lot of people are skeptical of defensive statistics, as they tend to fluctuate significantly from season to season. However, consistently excellent defenders and consistently bad defenders usually are bore out over the course of a player’s career. Erratic defenders are harder to pinpoint. As we’ve learned over the years, defense is actually a quantifiable asset. It comes down to what plays a player “should” make.
In his career through 2018, these were Semien’s defensive stats broken down by the likelihood of a play being successfully made:
Impossible (0%) 0%
Remote (1-10%) 0%
Unlikely (10-40%) 11.3%
Even (40-60%) 15.7%
Likely (60-90%) 61.1%
Routine (90-100%) 95.9%
In 2018, these are his numbers
Impossible (0%) 0%
Remote (1-10%) 0%
Unlikely (10-40%) 12.5%
Even (40-60%) 21.1%
Likely (60-90%) 61.9%
Routine (90-100%) 96.8%
While those percentages are definitely better than his career averages - which are boosted by his 2018 numbers - they don’t seem like that much. Still, all you need are a handful of made plays in those 10-40% and 40-60% ranges to make a big difference in your defensive value.
Those numbers made Semien worth 9 Defensive Runs Saved and 6.4 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games played). That’s well above-average, although not quite Gold Glove calibre. But what stands out about Semien’s year is how my OOZ (Out of Zone) plays he made: 133. Previously he had made 106 in 2016. His RZR (Revised Zone Rating) was .869, far above his career average of .803, which includes 2018.
This is definitely an improved defensive player. Will he keep this up? It’s completely possible, as defense is a skill that can be learned and improved over time.
Marcus Semien Batting in 2018
For a career year, you’d expect Semien to have a breakout with the bat. That’s not what happened at all. Marcus Semien had a batting average of .255, right in line with his career stats. His on-base percentage was merely .319 and his slugging percentage a fairly low .388. That’s not a great batting line. However, as he plays in Oakland, notoriously not a good pitcher’s park, that batting line of .255/.319/.388 is nearly league-average. He also was a positive on the basepaths with 14 stolen bases, although he was caught 6 times.
There are a couple of interesting things to point out, however. Semien saw more pitches at the plate in 2018 than ever before in his career: 2881. He also saw far more balls, 1102, than ever before. He also hit more line drives and fly balls than ever before, and had a career high 19 infield hits.
Is Marcus Semien Poised for a Better 2019?
When you see improvements across the board like this, it’s very likely you have an improving player. Marcus Semien is only 28 years old and in his prime. The Oakland A’s may enjoy even better results from their shortstop moving forward. If he’s able to produce even half of the defensive value that he did in 2018, he could be an above-average shortstop going forward.
While StatCast seems to think that Semien was a bit lucky with only a .299 expected on-base average (xwOBA) and .329 expected on-base average on contact (xwOBACON), he also had more batted balls in 2018 than ever. If Semien squares up just a few more fastballs going forward, this is a sneaky good, very underrated player.
While Marcus Semien may not be your first choice at shortstop for a fantasy baseball team, or even your fourth or fifth, he’s possibly not seen his best year yet.
Lyn Lomasi is founder and owner of the Brand Shamans Content Community. Services include ordained soul therapy and healing ministry, business success coaching, business success services, handcrafted healing jewelry, ethereal and anointing oils, altar and spiritual supplies and services, handcrafted healing beauty products, and more!
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