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Your Kyle Seager Perception

looks like a champion to me
looks like a champion to me

From, I don't know, just about the beginning of the regular season, people have been making a big deal out of Kyle Seager's two-out RBI total. He's among the league leaders in that category, or maybe he is the league leader, I'm not going to bother to check because I don't care. People have talked up Seager's ability to hit with two strikes, and when I say "people" what I really mean is "broadcasters" because those are the people I listen to talk about the Mariners the most.

What's weird is that the broadcasters have focused on the wrong broadcaster-friendly statistic. Okay, so Seager has a bunch of two-out RBI. Here are Seager's batting splits by outs:

0 out: .726 OPS
1 out: .701
2 out: .706

By those numbers alone, Seager hasn't been anything special with two outs. He's been about the same in all situations. But look at these other splits, the sorts of splits that broadcasters just love to talk about:

Bases empty: .605 OPS
Runners on: .878
With RISP: .989

Seager has batted 121 times with runners in scoring position this year, and he's 35-for-102 with a bunch of walks and extra-base hits. People love people who hit with runners in scoring position. Hitting with runners in scoring position is a good time to hit, and Seager's had good timing in 2012.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, check out this leaderboard. FanGraphs has a "Clutch" statistic for position players that measures how much a guy has elevated his game in important situations. Among all regular position players in baseball so far, Seager has posted the highest Clutch score, by a significant margin. He hasn't hit well with nobody on, but situations are less important with nobody on. Leverage goes up with runners on base, and Seager's numbers have gone up, too. Those splits above are comical.

Seager's success in big situations influences the way he's perceived, because you associate more positive memories with him than you might if he had the same numbers but more normal splits. All perception is is a weighted collection of memories, and we've got a lot of positive memories of Kyle Seager. The bad news, as many of you already know, is that being clutch in this way isn't predictive. You might think that there's something special about Kyle Seager that allows him to have so much success in run-scoring situations, but it generally doesn't work out that way. In his limited time a year ago, Seager was below-average in this regard. It's possible that Seager is an exception. It's probable that he is not, and that from this point forward, his career splits will look like more usual splits.

So Seager isn't truly this clutch, and so your perception might be a little too favorable. But oh, are we ever not done. As long as we're going to fuck around with Kyle Seager's statistics, here's another split to consider:

Home: .599 OPS, 12 extra-base hits
Road: .811 OPS, 27 extra-base hits

That's just for this season, and Seager has batted 242 times at Safeco and 249 times elsewhere so it's not like the sample sizes are different. We've long been aware that Safeco was chaining hitters to a standpipe and whipping them with sticks, and Kyle Seager has been about as tortured as anyone. You'd think he might be more immune, being a left-handed hitter with pull power, but he's hit two of his dingers in Seattle and the other 11 on the road. This also influences the Kyle Seager perception, in the opposite way.

You never ever ever want to make too much of single-season home/road splits, especially when the season hasn't even ended yet, but Safeco's been weird, exceptionally, unquestionably weird, and it's really messed up our ability to evaluate the hitters and pitchers. It's all still baseball, but it's very different baseball and I don't know what to make of the numbers. Seager has been a borderline star everywhere but home. Jesus Montero has been even better away from home. Felix's ERA is over 3 and his strikeout rate is a lot lower away from home. I don't know to what degree any of this is meaningful, but Kyle Seager should probably have better overall numbers than he does. Safeco has bollocksed things up.

So one's Kyle Seager perception has simultaneously been pushed in both directions. There is one thing we can say with a fairly high degree of certainty, though: Kyle Seager has not been a bad defender at third base. If anything, he's been a pretty good one. Here are two not-carefully-selected video highlights:

The numbers like him, for whatever that's worth. UZR thinks he's been all right, and Defensive Runs Saved thinks he's been all right. My eyes think he's been all right, although they had to consult my brain and my brain is pretty persuasive while my eyes are pretty pliable. I think most if not all of you guys agree. Nobody's had a problem with Kyle Seager's defense, which is a mild surprise since he was mostly a second baseman and since he looks like Kyle Seager. Let's be honest here, we all on some level evaluate players based on how they look, and Kyle Seager doesn't look like he'd be particularly agile or capable of multiplying by two. Turns out he's pretty athletic, though. Athletic enough, and stable enough.

So what Seager has turned into is a fine player who might be a very good player depending on the truth of his home and road numbers. Among third basemen, he's been a better hitter on the road than Alex Rodriguez and Pedro Alvarez. He can hold his own in the field. There are reasons to be highly pleased with Kyle Seager, especially since at the start of last season pretty much nobody thought he might be the long-term answer at third.

Lots of time left to go, and lots to sort out with a handful of third basemen with promise in the minors. I don't know where Kyle Seager's career is going to go. But it's already gotten here, and Seager's just 24 years old. Young Mariners position players have had less encouraging seasons, is what I'm saying here.