Oakland Athletics’ Shortstop Marcus Semien Is Improving Defensively, But Slowly

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Will Semien’s 2015 Struggles Hurt the Oakland Athletics Next Season?

Despite Marcus Semien’s terrible defensive showing in Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays, his numbers show that there is no reason for the Oakland Athletics to give up hope on their shortstop just yet.

Semien, who has spent the season training extensively with defensive coach Ron Washington, has made major improvements to his play in the field. Before the All-Star break, Semien had made 28 errors, but he’s made just two since the team’s return on July 17. Even before the break, he’d shown signs of reducing his mistakes, as he made just five errors in the month of July.

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Shortstop is the hardest position to play in terms of recorded errors, so Semien is always going to look as though he’s the defensive weak link. But his throws are improving, and he is doing a better job of fielding the ball softly instead of making errors on his catches. There’s certainly room to continue improving, but is it time for the A’s to turn their attention back to his offense?

Semien got off to a hot start in 2015, batting .283/.326/.444 with six home runs and 16 RBIs in the first two months of the season. However, once he started focusing on his defensive shortcomings, his bat disappeared from the A’s lineup. In June, he hit .213 and had an OPS of just .575 after going homer-less throughout the entire month. July was even worse, with an average of just .183 to accompany two home runs and a pair of walks.

The Oakland Athletics do not have a powerful lineup, and Semien seemed like he might be capable of offering them some of the boost that they needed without sluggers Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson in the middle of the order. Yet his season has been lost to defensive improvements that should have been worked on in spring training or in the minor leagues. The A’s likely did not want to waste an option, but letting Semien struggle against major league competition while trying to make major adjustments is hardly fair.

Earlier in the year, Ben Zobrist and Eric Sogard would have been able to hold down the middle infield, so there is no reason that Semien needed to stay in the majors. Why not send the young shortstop down to Triple-A Nashville, where he could play every day and still have time to make improvements and changes to both his defense and his offense?

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Now, Danny Valencia is capable of playing third, which frees up Brett Lawrie to cover second base while Sogard plays shortstop. There are also plenty of mediocre middle infielders in the A’s system who can fill a bench role while Semien gets a few weeks to play games in front of much smaller crowds with far less pressure. He can return in September, after he’s had time to make adjustments.

While it’s very late in the season, it might be worth it to burn an option anyway. Why? Mentally, it’s tough for young players to lead the league in errors while also having a rough time at the plate. Athletes are human, and no matter how many times they’re told not to look at the scoreboard, seeing poor numbers displayed next to their names can be very stressful and hard to overcome. Even the most professional of players is adversely affected in that situation. Heading into next season, the A’s need him to be at the top of his game. Semien needs to regain his confidence so that he can focus on winning instead of simply not hurting the team.

Give Semien a break. Send him to Nashville for a few weeks before having him rejoin the big league club. A mentally healthy player is a far better asset for next season than one who limps into the offseason after a rough year, and that’s the kind of winter Semien is headed for right now.

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