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Believing In Kyle Seager

It’s often said that almost anything can happen in a single month of a baseball season. We can list endless examples of unexpected hot streaks from replacement-level players to illustrate that point, and as fantasy owners, we often get cajoled into trusting those small sample sizes. We all want to admit we don’t attempt to “ride the hot streak,” but we all do it. For example, I owned Brian Dozier in June for a couple weeks because I was desperate up the middle.

Luckily, it worked out, as my team was simply trying to hold it together up the middle until Jose Reyes returned from the disabled list.

When looking at the “last 30 days” split on the leaderboards, though, some hot streaks don’t appear to be out of place. Mike Trout owns the highest wOBA (.477) in all of baseball over the last 30 days. No one should be surprised by that. The second-highest wOBA (.470) in the last 30 days belongs to third baseman Kyle Seager. Considering he’s been a four-win player already this year and has a .300/.363/.496 slash line, he also shouldn’t trigger any alarms.

Hold on a moment. Kyle Seager — the same guy who was the 14th-ranked fantasy third baseman last year — suddenly doesn’t appear out of place amongst the top hitters in the league? Well, that’s significant.

The 25-year-old never had lofty expectations once he broke into the big leagues in 2011, and he appeared to be nothing but a fringe starter after compiling a mere .306 wOBA at third base in his rookie season. He surprised some folks by becoming a useful fantasy option last year when he hit 20 home runs and stole 13 bases. Still, his overall power profile going forward wasn’t inspiring and his batting average still hovered around .260. As mentioned earlier, he was only the 14th-ranked third baseman. That’s hardly anything about which we should get excited.

Of course, he’s now exploded onto the baseball scene as one of the better third basemen in the league. He is the 5th-ranked third baseman in ESPN leagues — ahead of guys like Evan Longoria, Manny Machado, Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval. That’s even higher than some of the breakout guys, too, such as Matt Carpenter, Josh Donaldson and Pedro Alvarez. If you drafted Seager, you’ve gotten crazy surplus value on him this year, and that is what drives the best fantasy seasons.

The most intriguing aspect of Kyle Seager’s season isn’t the fact that he’s produced so well. Instead, it’s that his underlying numbers suggest he’s experiencing legitimate, sustainable improvement.

His walk rate has increased every year in the big leagues, and his strikeout rate has decreased in concert with the improved walk rate. His ISO has steadily gained 30-40 points per season, including a jump from a .163 ISO last year to a .197 ISO this year. Those are obviously very encouraging signs that indicate an improved approach at the plate, one that has paid huge dividends for him and fantasy owners.

Again, though, it appears these trends should be sustainable for Seager. Check out his plate discipline statistics from the past two seasons:

Year O-Swing% Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2012 30.3% 47.9% 82.4% 8.3%
2013 25.7% 42.2% 84.3% 6.5%

He has become more selective at the plate. He’s swinging at fewer pitches overall, but he’s also swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone. He’s also making more contact. Judging by the numbers presented in the above table, one would confidently expect Seager to walk more and strikeout less, which is what we’re witnessing this season. If he continues to show this type of discipline at the plate, he should continue to improve his walk-to-strikeout ratio and put himself in better counts to hit for power.

Kyle Seager is enjoying a tremendous stretch at the plate over the last 30 days. He’s been the third-best fantasy player over that stretch. Perhaps the biggest news, though, is that we’re no longer surprised he’s performing at this level. Obviously, owners shouldn’t expect him to perform at this level over the final two months of the season, but his underlying numbers suggest the improvement we’ve seen this season is legitimate and has a chance for sustainability. Owners should be confident Seager is not a flash in the pan and should produce for the stretch run in the fantasy season.