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Can Jean Segura handle third base?

The Marlins are counting on Segura to contribute at the hot corner, a position he has rarely played during his career.

Marlins 3B Brian Anderson (15) slides past Phillies 3B Jean Segura (2) in the third in the second inning during the game between the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies on July 26, 2020 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As Fish Stripes’ own Alex Krutchik detailed last week, Jean Segura’s fit with the Miami Marlins is a bit unconventional. Segura has been a full-time second baseman since the beginning of 2021, a position already accounted for by the team’s best hitter, Jazz Chisholm Jr. With plenty of time still remaining between now and Opening Day, perhaps the Marlins will complete trades that make their pieces fit together more seamlessly. In the meantime, we are left to assume that the veteran will relocate to third base.

The Marlins believe he will be fine there,” Craig Mish and Barry Jackson recently reported for the Miami Herald. They included quotes from an anonymous scout, who complimented Segura’s hands and arm strength while cautioning that he needs an adjustment period to get used to “seeing the ball off the bat” from a different vantage point.

I think this subject merits a deeper dive.

MLB Track Record and Skill Set

Segura has prior third base experience. All 24 games and 179 23 innings of it came during the 2020 MLB season. That sample size on its own is not large enough to guide us to any definitive conclusions. For what it’s worth, he was credited with 1 DRS (defensive runs saved) and 1 OAA (outs above average), with two errors committed in 55 total chances.

Before getting back to Segura’s glovework, here’s a brief aside about why his position change is significant.

In 2021, MLB second basemen combined for a 98 wRC+ (100 represents league average) compared to a 101 wRC+ for third basemen. The gap between the positions was even wider last season: 99 wRC+ for second basemen vs. 105 wRC+ for third basemen. That is mostly attributable to over-the-fence power—during those two years combined, third basemen hit 25% more home runs. Second basemen partially compensated for that with superior baserunning, stealing 60% more bases (albeit at a slightly lower success rate). Overall, there is a greater offensive burden put on third basemen.

Entering his age-33 season, Segura provides less value with his legs than he used to. He is a consistently good hitter, but hasn’t had a wRC+ more than 10% above league average since 2017, so there’s a limited ceiling on what you can realistically expect from him in terms of run production. For the Marlins to be completely satisfied with Segura as their primary starter at third base, he will need to be an effective defender.

Just like the aforementioned scout, I’m curious how Segura will fare in situations that test his reaction time. Remember that infield shifting is being restricted beginning next season with fielders required to set up on the infield dirt. After being utilized as a second baseman in a shift-whenever-you-want world, he must prepare for a much different assignment.

Thanks to Baseball Savant, we can run searches involving plays that used “standard” infield alignments. In 2022, the average starting depth for MLB third basemen in a standard setting was 115 feet from home plate. Meanwhile, the starting depth for second basemen was 151 feet.

After rewatching most of Segura’s adventures at third base from 2020, I stitched together clips of these 10 plays that put his reaction time to the test, accounting for his positioning and the batted ball’s exit velocity:

The results were mixed. However, Segura at least looks like he belongs at third base thanks to his arm strength. Last season, the average velocity of his hardest throws was 86.5 miles per hour, according to Baseball Savant. That put him squarely between Matt Chapman (87.3 mph) and Ryan McMahon (85.8 mph), both of whom are renowned for playing great defense at the hot corner.

Segura’s signature play is diving to his left, popping up to his feet and gunning the ball to first. He executed it twice in the same night to rob hits from opposing batters during Philadelphia’s postseason run. There are exceptions like the one embedded near the top of the article, but unfortunately, he won’t get as many opportunities to do that at third as he did at second—it takes too long for the play to unfold when you have to throw all the way across the diamond.

Precedent for Segura to Follow

Asdrubal Cabrera #3 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on August 28, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

There are numerous examples of full-time middle infielders transitioning to third base during the middle or latter half of their MLB careers, most notably Cal Ripken Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. It goes without saying, Ripken and Rodriguez are unhelpful comps for Segura considering their size and generational talent.

I’d say Segura’s journey mostly closely mirrors that of Asdrúbal Cabrera. Cabrera got his feet wet at third base midway through 2017—his age-31 season—and spent 246 games there over his final five MLB campaigns. He produced -9 DRS and 2 OAA. Michael Young is a cautionary tale, rating as arguably the league’s worst defensive third baseman after making the move at age 32. His skill level wasn’t as high as Segura’s, though.

The ideal scenario for the Marlins is that Segura plays third base on an everyday basis, because that would imply Chisholm is healthy enough and improved enough against left-handed pitching to lock down daily second base duties. However, Chisholm’s injury history necessitates that the club invest in a backup plan. With Segura, the Marlins are far better prepared to weather a Jazz IL stint than they were in 2022.