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Kyle Seager: How Much Breakout is Left

Kyle Seager broke the F out this season. He hit 20 home runs, stole 13 bases, and basically cemented himself a starting role going forward. Though it’s also great news that all of this production was in line with the work he did in the minor leagues, that same fact leaves us wondering how much breakout is left for the 25-year-old infielder.

The biggest surprise on Seager’s ledger was the power, probably. He had an isolated slugging percentage of .163 in Seattle, after showing a .146 ISO in the minor leagues. But at 25, he’s right in the middle of his peak power no matter how you slice it, and he hits more fly balls than ground balls. In the minor leagues, it looks like the opposite was true. So, take a guy with slightly below-average power, make him hit more fly balls, and you get a guy with slightly above-average power. Seems reasonable. Even ‘against the wind’ in SafeCo.

Otherwise it looks like Seager pretty much kept up the okay work, like an un-remarkable rock. He had a .258 batting average and a .312 on-base percentage his rookie year, and he had a .259 batting average and a .316 OBP this past season. He stole low-double digit bases in 2010, 2011, and 2012, so he kept that up. He played decent defense at second and third and poor defense at shortstop — by the numbers — and that was the book on him coming up. He walked a little bit less in the majors than the minors, and struck out a little more, but he’s close enough to average in both as it stands that his plate discipline is not a big deal.

Add it all up and he’s a decent real-life player with fantasy value that’s pumped up by the fact that he played short for ten games in 2011. But he didn’t play there in 2012, so he won’t be a shortstop in 2013. And a .259 batting average saps enough of the life out of a 20/10 season that it was only the 14th best showing for a third baseman. He’ll need to show upside beyond 2012’s modest work to be a starting third sacker in most mixed leagues.

And with power and speed scraping the ceiling already, that upside is going to come from his batting average. Though he’s hit just short of .260 in both of his first seasons in the bigs, there are signs that he can turn the page. His batting average on balls in play last year was .286 despite decent wheels. With his batted ball mix working against him, his xBABIP was still .304. That lines up well against his .303 BABIP in his rookie season. Seager’s strikeout rate also went down in 2012 (17.9% to 16.9%) and if he makes even just a little more contact, he could improve the number of balls in play and his batting average. His minor league strikeout rate was 13.3%, so that’s not far-fetched.

Obviously his home/away splits are enticing. Like most Mariners, his .836 away OPS is nicer than his .632 home OPS. But you can’t just give him him his away numbers and call it a day. Consider that his night OPS is .756 to .699 during day games. Unless you think he makes special night moves before the evening games, it’s folly to keep expecting better play at night. Splits like this aren’t very predictive, so let’s wait and see his away OPS another year before we call him a slugger.

Seager’s still the same. He’ll hit a few homers, steal a few bags, and there’s evidence he’ll have a slightly better batting average in the future. Don’t walk his power output forward too far because of the new fences in SafeCo, since there’s regression risk there. But at a single-digit price, with a shinier batting average within reach, even on a bad Seattle team, Seager’s likely to be a beautiful loser in 2013 drafts. If you don’t get your hopes up too high, you’ll probably be ‘satisfied.’

Thanks to Craig Glaser from Bloomberg Sports for the idea for the seventh reference to a single artist in this piece. You can figure out the easiest ones, but can you get all of them?