On June 24, 2014, Kyle Seager had two hits, including a home run, in a 8-2 Mariner victory over the Red Sox. The night took Seager’s triple slash to .260/.334/.469. That line would have represented a career high, but Lloyd McClendon, then the Mariner manager, didn’t think it was good enough:
"Kyle is an accomplished hitter. He knows what he is doing at the plate, but I probably expect a little bit more than you guys," McClendon answered when asked about what he has seen from Seager. "I think there’s a big room for improvement. He’s doing a nice job, he’s swinging the bat, he’s hitting some home runs, he’s driving in some runs, but I have been around the game for a long time and Kyle Seager is not a .260 hitter and there has to be some more progress, some more steps to take and that’s my responsibility to get it out of him. He’s doing great, but we have got to take that next step."
From June 25th, through the rest of the 2014 season Kyle Seager hit .275/.333/.441. It was his breakout season, his career year, with a 127 wRC+, 5.4 fWAR, and a Gold Glove. It earned him his 7 year/$100 million extension. It represented the culmination of years of systematic, obsessive development seemingly designed to attached every weakness in his game like the immune system attacks a virus. It was, we thought, his ceiling.
Drafted as a second baseman/utility guy out of college, Seager’s commitment to learning defense at third base has led to him being among the American League’s better defender’s. In a league with Adrian Beltre and Manny Machado, he’ll never be the best, but, y’know. The best compliment I can give to Kyle Seager's defense is when I watch him play third I don't miss Beltre all that much. Adrian Beltre, to be clear, is probably one of the 5-7 best third basement to ever live.
Let's talk some dingers. In 731 PA at North Carolina Seager hit seventeen home runs.
"His best tool is his bat. He has a smooth, balanced swing and makes consistent contact with gap power. He ranked third in the nation in 2008 with 30 doubles and was on a similar pace in 2009. He has a patient approach but doesn’t project to hit for much home run power because of his modest bat speed and flat swing plane."
A commitment to refining a pull swing, and extensive work in the weight room (the man must live on a squat rack in the winter) has turned Seager's stroke from this, in college:
into the model of the slight uppercut, pull-power hitter he has become:
On August 12th, 2012 Kyle Seager hit his eighteenth career home run, one more than he hit in college. He did so in 702 PA, twenty-nine fewer than his Tar Heel days. Every one of his nearly six full seasons in the majors, he has set a career high in home runs.
It is often said (because it's true) that baseball is a game of adjustments. Kyle Seager's approach is constantly changing, and the book on him is always written in pencil. Last year, after years of typical platoon splits, Seager learned to crush left-handed pitching, running a 131 wRC+ against southpaws and leading the league in left-on-lefty crime/dingers. This year the improvement has been in plate discipline. Seager's .376 OBP is a career high by nearly forty points, and his 10.3 BB% is also the best it has ever been.
I can, and will continue to gush. After April Kyle Seager had a wRC+ of 76. Since that time he has hit .322/.397/.559. In the Golden Age of American League Third Basemen, let's put that into context a bit:
Since May 1:— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 9, 2016
Josh Donaldson - .290/.409/.545
Adrian Beltre - .294/.356/.505
Manny Machado - .300/.350/.542
Kyle Seager - .322/.397/.559
Of course, 2016, while his best season, doesn't represent a breakout for Seager, as much as a cementing of what has seemed possible for years now: Kyle Seager is the best third baseman in Mariner history. Again, I will cite myself, because I am a raging egotist:
Adrian Beltre, 5 years in Seattle: 15.9 fWAR— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 9, 2016
Kyle Seager, ~5 years in Seattle: 22.4 fWAR
Not only does Seager's Mariner career seem destined to the team's hall of fame, but 2016 is could finish as arguably the finest single season of any Mariner to ever play the position. The only true competition is 1992 Edgar Martinez, who hit .343/.404/.544, with a very Edgar-like 165 wRC+. Of course how much of that offensive gap Seager makes up for with the glove is far less scientific, but being in the conversation with Edgar says much.
I keep thinking about Sam Miller, former-Baseball Prospectus head honcho, and recent ESPN hire, who tweeted out a series of thoughts oriented around the need for constant improvement. The slow, annual improvement from league average, to above average, to star, to superstar, is not nearly as thrilling as the Mike Trout/Manny Machado/Bryce Harper phenom route. We love those able to access the life equivalent of the flutes in Super Mario 3, and warp past all the drudgery of incremental progress. But the majority of baseball's greats are developed over time, slowly, carefully, with immense practice, thought, and study. So it is with Kyle Seager.
Outside of an unusual (and overblown) rise in errors, Seager's 2016 stands as yet another leap in a career that has perpetually seemed to be bumping against its ceiling. He is the Mariner's unicorn. The one positional talent this organization has drafted, developed, NOT traded, and seen blossom into stardom. Barring injury or significant collapse, he is going to be one of this franchise's very best players, ever. I don't think it's possible to really appreciate enough that on a roster with Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and Nelson Cruz, he is quite possibly the 2016 Mariners' best player.
I'll close with an example: Thursday night Kyle Seager faced Jake Diekman in the 8th inning of a one run game, and his many years of development were on full display. Left-hander? Check. Taking a 1-1 slider inches outside for ball two? Check. With the count at 2-2 Diekman fired a 95 MPH fastball on the hands, just off the plate. There are few hitters who get the barrel to that pitch, and fewer still who keep it fair. Kyle Seager is one of those few. The last Mariner hitter who could do something like that is fitting, as he was the last great hitter to debut as a Mariner, and a similarly obsessive student of the game:
Kyle Seager is 28, and a legitimate superstar. It seems impossible he will ever get better than he has been this year. We've been saying that his entire career.