Coming To Terms With Kyle Seager

Last year was as miserable as it gets for erstwhile All Star third baseman Kyle Seager. He underperformed pretty much across the board compared to his career numbers, and he’s been on a steady decline the last two years following what was a zenith in 2016. To wit:

  • 2016: .278/.359/.499, 36 doubles, 3 triples, 30 homers, 99 RBI, 69 walks (nice), and 108 strikeouts
  • 2017: .249/.323/.450, 33 doubles, 1 triple, 27 homers, 88 RBI, 58 walks, and 110 strikeouts
  • 2018: .221/.273/.400, 36 doubles, 1 triple, 22 homers, 78 RBI, 38 walks, and 138 strikeouts

I mean, other than the doubles and triples hanging in there, those are some pretty severe drops. It’s no coincidence, I would argue, that these numbers have come with a sharp increase in the number of shifts other teams employ whenever Seager is at bat. Which is pretty demoralizing, because there’s a clear decline in his BABIP over the same span (.295 in 2016, which isn’t really lucky OR unlucky, but is much closer to his career norms; it fell all the way to .251 in 2018, which is tragic, but also might be the New Norm for Seager) and you have to believe that’s related. An optimist might venture a hopeful life-preserver to drowning Seager fans by saying that a simple turnaround in his luck with batted balls in play could make all the difference in returning him to that reliable fixture in the middle of our lineup. But, if the shifts are doing this much damage – or if they’re in his head to the point that he’s making things worse with his approach – then all hope is probably lost.

At which point, he’s due $57.5 million over the next three years, plus a possible buy-out for 2022. He’s in his age 31 season as we speak.

In taking a deeper look at his numbers, his Ground Ball to Fly Ball ratio isn’t remarkably different from career norms. Neither are his Ground Outs to Air Outs (he had his most ground outs in 2016, with his 2018 numbers slightly less but around the same). His Balls In Play percentage is about the same too, which is weird because his strikeout percentage went from under 17% for his career thru 2017, to nearly 22% in 2018 (which coincides with his walk percentage at 8.5% thru 2017, down to 6.0% in 2018). Obviously, striking out less and walking more would help his slash line, and you’d think lifting the ball more would translate to more fly balls (and therefore more homers) than a futile attempt at breaking the shift.

One telling number is the percentage of fly balls that turned into homers. Those have been dropping the last two years, and could be a marker of Seager losing some pop in his bat due to age. It’s not a crazy fall, but it’s notable (11.2% in 2016 down to 8.4% in 2018). If that’s true, then all hope truly is lost, because you can’t fight age. And, unless the league bans shifts (which I can’t imagine is very likely), then that’s a double-whammy.

The only thing Seager can control is what he swings at outside the zone. Improving his eye and discipline at the plate is probably the only way to really turn his career around, but with that comes the very real possibility that he loses a lot of his power, which is the last thing this team wants or needs. The other idea is to go counter completely, become even more of a pull hitter than he already is, and change his swing so he’s doing nothing but swinging for the fences or striking out 200 times. Honestly, that’s probably the way to go. He’ll probably come in at around the same batting average that he has now, but if he can get into the mid-to-high 30’s in homers and doubles, that could be enough to salvage some of his value. It’s not ideal; his All Star days are surely long behind him, but it’s something at least.

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