Prior to this season, the Blue Jays signed Marcus Semien to a one year, $18 million dollar contract, a deal which has turned out to be one of the best value signings of the offseason. The shortstop was coming off of a down offensive 2020 season, and a year removed from his only above average offensive year in 2019. Toronto already had a good shortstop in Bo Bichette, so Semien was slotted to slide into the 2nd base position. So there was some risk involved in the deal, but Semien has proven any doubters wrong with his production this year.
That 2019 season for Semien was excellent. A year in which he set career highs in nearly every offensive category while posting a 137 wRC+ and putting up 7.6 fWAR, putting him in line for a surprising 3rd place finish in AL MVP voting. In 2021, Semien is putting up very similar numbers as far as value goes. He has a 134 wRC+ and has been worth 6.5 fWAR thus far. The difference, however, is how he has gotten there. With just under a week left in the campaign, Toronto’s slugger has walloped 43 home runs, tied for the most ever by a second baseman, and is maintaining a career high ISO mark of .275. To go along with these new peaks in the power department, he has oddly lowered his walk rate by over 2% and increased his strikeout rate from 13.7% to 20.2% in comparison to 2019. His current rates are much more in line with his disappointing 2020 season than when he was getting MVP votes. In comparison to both of those years however, Semien is now hitting the ball out of the ballpark and generally slugging a heck of a lot more.
A big factor in this change for Semien has been a significant shift in his batted ball profile. Like many players who have found success later in their careers, he has substantially increased his pull percentage as well as his fly ball percentage, both by over 7%, relative to 2019. Those types of batted balls tend to produce the most value, and Semien sure is taking advantage of it. This approach has given the Toronto slugger this rather fun home run spray chart.
The guy likes the left field foul pole, and why not? It tends to be a good place to produce for a right handed hitter, especially for one who doesn’t hit the ball exceptionally hard such as Semien. The slugger is evidently making the most of this new profile too, putting up a 179 wRC+ on fly balls, 38 points better than the league-wide mark. In that same vein, Semien’s wRC+ when pulling the ball is a whopping 281, while the league mark to the pull side is just 162. Essentially, Semien seems to have changed his batted ball profile, and has taken full advantage of it in 2021.
The Jays’ second baseman has also made his positional change look seamless. Semien, once known as a poor defensive shortstop, is now in the 90th percentile for outs above average playing on the other side of the bag for Toronto. In a lot of ways, Semien has evolved into a very different player from the one he was in his early days in Oakland, and even from when he was one of the best players in baseball in 2019.
To me, that sort of development is encouraging. He has shown the ability to be as valuable as almost anyone in baseball, and that he’s able to reach that level in different ways. Since 2019, according to FanGraphs, Semien has been the most valuable player in baseball. Putting up over 15 fWAR in that span. Number one in Major League Baseball, and tied for 3rd in the league this year; he is an elite player. There’s no discounting the impact he has and will have on Toronto’s playoff push, as well as the sizable contract he should receive this upcoming offseason. As far as MVP voting goes, Semien is competing with a teammate having an even better offensive year in Vlad Guerrero Jr. and a once in a lifetime type season happening in Anaheim. Regardless, he’s sure to receive some down-ballot recognition, and he certainly deserves it. Semien may be a bit of late bloomer as far as baseball careers go, especially with so many young stars in the game, but at this point it seems safe to say that he’s among the best players baseball has to offer.
Featured Photo: Twitter @BlueJays