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How Kyle got his groove back

In the month of May, Kyle Seager completely erased a terrible start to the season.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

On April 30, Kyle Seager’s slash line was a woeful .159/.266/.378, 21% below league average. Since then, he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball and his turnaround has been one of the more remarkable storylines of this season. In the month of May, Seager hit .361/.421/.630, 84% above league average, and completely erased any thoughts of disappointment.

I was looking through Seager’s monthly splits to see if there was anything that could explain such a massive turn of fortune and noticed something interesting. In April, Kyle was hitting the ball to the opposite field more often than ever before. He was spraying the ball around the field equally which is something we’ve never seen from him. He’s always been a heavy pull hitter which is why he’s been shifted on so much. So I dug a little deeper.

FanGraphs has recently added a ton of functionality to their player graphs and we now have the ability to create plots showing a rolling average for various statistics. Here’s a plot of a 10-game rolling average for Kyle Seager’s batted ball direction:

Around game 20, we see a big spike in Oppo%. That period encompasses the 10 games between April 23 and May 3. In that time, Seager collected nine hits, eight of which were for extra bases. When a hitter is slumping, we often talk about how just a few hits falling in can be a huge confidence boost. Because opposing teams utilize a defensive shift against Seager so often, hitting to the opposite field might have been a response. But during that spike in hitting to left field, just two of his nine hits fell in the opposite field. The other seven were blasted into right field.

It wasn’t until he started hitting the ball up the middle that he really turned things around. In the following 10 games after May 3, Seager accumulated 17 hits, including seven more extra-base hits. Here’s what he had to say about his adjustments:

"I’m able to stay more in the middle of the field. Not pulling off nearly as bad. You’re giving yourself a chance on balls that are middle of the way as opposed to only having one area you can handle."

To get his swing right, Seager started by hitting the ball to left, then brought it back up the middle, and finally started pulling the ball with authority again. This is a common technique in batting practice; hit five to the opposite field, hit five up the middle, and then let loose to your pull side. It’s all part of a process. Here’s what Scott Servais had to say about Seager’s adjustments:

"He is predominantly a pull hitter. You see everybody shift against him. But when he does take some balls up the middle and into left-center field, you know things are starting to come around. He’s not pulling off as many balls. You don’t see the roll-over ground balls to second base. When you start to see that happening, you know good things are going to come."

Since that bad first month of the season, Seager has raised his batting line all the way to .279/.351/.500, 32% above league average. His strikeout and walk rates are close to career bests and he’s hitting for more power than ever before. He’s on pace to have the most productive offensive season of his career and these adjustments he’s made and the subsequent torrid hot streak is a big reason why.