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 news editor at The Score, and is a freelance sportswriter covering baseball, basketball, hockey and more. Think Bo Jackson, without the being good at every sport part. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

8 Responses to “Kyle Seager’s Cold Finish Shouldn’t Scare You Off”

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  1. dtpollitt says:

    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.

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  2. Joe Don says:

    There’s a much simpler explanation – SEA quit playing the Rangers. Only six games from Aug. 1 through the end of the season. Here is a comparison of Seager’s slash, full-season vs. Rangers

    .283 .352 .468 .821
    .403 .452 .779 1.232

    If you subtract Seager’s stats vs. the Rangers from the rest of his season, his BA falls 20 points and he becomes a league-average hitter.

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  3. Balthazar says:

    Seager is what he is. He’s a dead pull lefty because that’s how he generates more power than he was expected to coming up. The pop-ups are a function of that also, he’s being pitched away but still swinging to pull. He was a bit swing happy in the minors and as a rookie, but it speaks to his smarts that he’s refined his grasp on the strikezone and improved his walk rate. Maybe, just maybe, Kyle will drive the outside pitch the other way in a few years, but I don’t see it. Seager has mostly had value because he drives the ball, and he well understands that at his size/strength/swing he has to pull the ball to drive it; ergo . . . . Don’t anyone expect a ‘breakout’ by Kyle, is part of what I’m saying, he’s already had it.

    Both 2012 and 2013 Seager has worn down badly at the end of the year. He’s looked, fielded, and swung tired. This may be a conditioning issue, and if so there may be some room for improvement. Then again, the Mariners’ former manager hardly gave Seager an inning off during mid-season in 2013, and had a penchant for rushing dinged up guys back into the line-up. That was because Kyle was amongst the most consistent performers on a club with a lot of busts in the line-up at times, and the Mariners’ roster utilization didn’t provide a back-up for 3b who could hit his weight or the Mendoza line, whichever was lower. Intelligent usage by his new manager might mitigate this to a degree. Who knows?

    Seager is not fast on the basepaths, be it said. I doubt he ever steals in double digits again.

    Kyle Seager would actually be the best player for the Mariners to deal this offseason. No, it won’t happen—but it should. Seager has established real value above what was expected for him, but he’s likely nearer his ceiling than his median performance. Seattle will bet on more ‘improvement,’ but as far as true talent power and contact skills to me this is it for Seager as someone who has watched him here. Sure, he’s valuable, but other teams will see him that way too, particularly because he has performed and improved whereas putatively better guys in the Ms org have been far more inconsistent of just bad. In giving up Seagar, one can have a pretty good idea of what one is giving up, unlike many guys who would go at discounts to their potential ceilings. It would be a ballsy dealer to move Kyle Seager, and I don’t see that happening, but he could center a good package and there are other guys in the org coming. I’d rather that Brad Miller and Nick Franklin are kept, and Ackley moved when his numbers look good or at least steady. Kyle’s the steady eddie—so move him.

    Seattle’s a decent park for a left-handed pull hitter, but if and when Seager landed in a home park with a short right field porch, he could nicely boost his ISO without doing a thing differently than he is now. Folks would say ‘How could they trade that guy,’ but it’s not who you give up it’s who you get.

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