Kyle Seager’s Cold Finish Shouldn’t Scare You Off

Kyle Seager settled in as a full-time third baseman in 2013, and while no longer having positional flexibility is inconvenient, he remained a top option at the hot corner.

A year after ranking 14th at the position in overall value, Seager pushed forward to be a starting caliber third baseman for 12-team leagues, ranking 12th in overall value.

His final fantasy lines were very similar:

2012 – .259, 20 HR, 62 R, 86 RBI, 13 SB
2013 – .260, 22 HR, 79 R, 69 RBI, 9 SB

But Seager actually made some improvements this year that make it appear there could be even more in store in his age-26 season.

Unfortunately, some of the improvements Seager seemed to make disappeared in August and September, as he followed up an incredible July with below average months to close the year.

There are conflicting signals as to whether he went backwards in those months or simply had a rough couple of weeks. While his September ISO fell off a cliff and his strikeout rate spiked in August, his walk rate also climbed in those months and his BABIP cratered.

Let’s look at Seager’s batted ball profile from 2012, early 2013 and the last two months of the season:

Time LD% GB% FB% IFFB%
2012 21.9 35.9 42.3 6.8
Apr-July ’13 23.2 36.8 40.9 7.9
Aug-Sep ’13 15.7 29.4 54.9 17.9

That’s a really unfriendly turn for his batted ball profile, and it makes it hardly a surprise that his BABIP declined for that period (although a .214 mark in those months is extreme). His HR/FB rate also dropped, though, meaning those extra fly balls weren’t paying off in the form of additional home runs (or ISO).

So we’re left with the question of whether his season as a whole, which shows improvements in plate discipline across the board (see below) and only small batted ball changes, is going to carry over into 2014 or if it was all lost late in the season.

Year O-Swing% Swing% Contact% SwStr% K% BB%
2012 30.3 47.9 82.4 8.3 16.9 7.1
2013 26.3 42.2 82.6 7.2 17.6 9.8

I’d hazard a guess that the discipline improvement is a real one. A decrease in O-Swing% is always something you want to see, and the improvement to his discipline across the board makes the walk rate improvement seem real and the increase in strikeouts seem somewhat unfair.

As for the batted balls, his HR/FB rate for the season was also almost identical to the year before. His batted ball distance on fly balls was up slightly (2.4 feet) and his distance on line drives and groundballs was the 44th highest in baseball (up more than 10 feet from 2012). That’s all to say, the change in his batted ball profile wasn’t for a lack of hitting the ball well, even with the infield fly ball rate jump.

It’s not fair to assume his first four months were his ‘true’ batted ball profile, just as it’s unfair to suggest putting all the numbers together gives us the right picture. That is, players with major changes at arbitrary end points without an obvious red flag (injury, change in mechanics) are difficult to judge.

HR: We know his 20 home run power is real. He’s done it twice in a row, he hits the ball in the air enough and hard enough to keep that up.

R/RBI: His runs and RBI, as with any player, are context dependent. His runs increased and his RBI dropped, probably not because of anything he did but because his 2012 numbers seemed too low and high, respectively. Without much change to the middle of the Mariners lineup, splitting the difference (70 runs, 75 RBI) creates a decent baseline (though Steamer suggests 63 and 65).

SB: Seager’s steals fell from 13 to nine even though he was slightly more effective (75 percent from 72 percent). His speed score made a slight improvement, too. If you want double digit steals from Seager, you’ll have to hope for more green lights – with the manager not yet determined, think 10 SB but hope for an aggressive bench boss to come in.

AVG: And now we circle back to the earlier discipline and batted ball discussion. Seager could have been a top-10 third baseman with a .280 average, and he was at .293 for the first half of the season. Improved discipline should help in this regard, as fewer strikeouts would mean more balls in play (and increased walks help run potential and in OBP leagues).

As for the batted ball data, perhaps it’s just optimism on my part, but I expect a more fantasy-friendly profile there in terms of LD/GB/FB. Basically, I believe in improved discipline, healthy batted ball distance and four months of strong hitting more than two down months.

With that said, it would help a great deal if Seager can show more of an all-field approach – teams began shifting heavily against him in the second half, with him hitting into 28 second half shifts to just six in the first half. His BABIP against shifts was just .147, and with 44.4 percent of his balls in play (including home runs) being pulled, teams aren’t likely to stop shifting. In fact, nearly 20 percent of all balls he put in play were groundballs to his pull side (perhaps that explains, in part, why his flyball rate spiked late, as he tried to avoid the shift by getting more lift on the ball?).

His WOBA was .508 when pulling the ball and he popped up an awful lot of balls to the opposite field, so it might be difficult to convince him to change his approach in this regard. If it sticks, however, his BABIP expectations needs to be adjusted downward.

Again, a bit of (naïve?) optimism here, perhaps from having anchored to Seager’s early-season breakout, but I do think he’ll be better in 2014. The shifts are definitely concerning, though, and he’ll need to remedy that to approach his early-season rate of production.

(Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman for the note on opposition shifts.)

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Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Seager nearly won me the championship. Paired with a speedy MI with decent AVG/OBP and you’ve got quite the player. I’m looking to target him next year.