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Two Weeks of Kyle Seager

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Trying to hold faith with Seattle’s steadiest man during a brutal stretch of hitting.

Kyle Seager has been, at least over the last several years, one of the anchors of the Mariners. Unfortunately, over the last 10 games, he has been an anchor affixed to a person with not quite enough chain to allow the individual to remain above the water consistently. Anchors should be on boats, and the Seattle Mariners, despite their deceptive name, are not a maritime vessel, nor do they operate within one. The last 10 games have not been the worst in Kyle Seager’s career, but his slump has been as poorly timed as anyone could have imagined.

The previous 10 games of the season have been perhaps the most important in at least two years, and the Mariners have gone 5-5 against a mixture of two good teams and one very bad one. This season they have averaged 4.7 runs per game and allowed 4.3. During this last stretch, they have scored 3.4 runs per game and allowed 3.5. The starting pitchers for the Mariners have found their form when the team needed them most, and along with a mostly solid bullpen have kept the Mariners in nearly every game in the month of September. The team now needs its offense to step up. Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz, berated for subpar showings in the most recent home stand, have taken turns as the M’s life vest in the past several games, keeping hope alive. Barring an improbable star turn from one of Seattle’s secondary players, however, they need their third stud to resurface.

There are several factors that could be blamed for Seager’s tough stretch. There is a great deal of imprecision in making conclusive evaluations from two weeks of baseball, but as the season shrinks we must try to combine season and career averages with short-term data. In 43 plate appearances over the last 10 games, Kyle has had a BABIP of .214, well below his .296 number for the year, or even his .290 career rate. He has probably been unlucky, but his other numbers make blaming batted ball luck less reasonable. 50% of the balls put into play by Seager over the last two weeks have been ground balls; this is sustainable if you are Ichiro in your prime but simply will not do for a player with average foot speed. The 38.1% hard hit rate Seager has posted in 2016 is the highest of his career, but he’s been nearly 10% lower than that latelyb which has resulted in pop ups and fly outs instead of home runs and doubles. Furthermore, he has struck out at an 18.6% clip, three percentage points above his season average and two points higher than his career rate.

Anyone who has watched the Mariners play these past two weeks doesn’t need this many statistics to see that Kyle has been brutal, but I am going to lay a few more sets of numbers out, which may reveal the pebble lodged in the gears of our beautiful, balding baseball machine.

Pull%

Cent%

Oppo%

Last 10 Games

21.4%

39.3%

39.3%

2016

39.8%

31.8%

28.4%

Career

42.2%

32.3%

25.5%

Using all of the field is a great skill, but much of Seager’s improved offensive value this year has come from his ability to translate his consistent physical strengthening into immense power as a pull hitter. We can see from a spray chart of his home runs in 2016 that Seager’s career high ISO of .226 has been achieved by taking aim at the right field bleachers.

Fangraphs

Kyle’s ISO of .056 over the last 10 games confirms what our eyes have showed us: all whiffs and no dingers make the M’s a dull offense. The Mariners as a team have been served plate appearance after plate appearance of breaking balls and only a few hitters (Aoki and Canó) seem to have successfully adjusted. According to Brooks Baseball, Seager has a 40% whiff rate on breaking pitches and draws most of his pulled balls off of fastballs; thus, seeing 32.4% breaking pitches in his last 43 plate appearances has understandably siphoned his power. Interestingly enough the month of July, when Seager posted a 168 wRC+, was the only time in 2016 that Seager faced a higher percentage of curveballs.

So what was different?

Brooks Baseball

Kyle demolished fastballs in July. He hardly ever missed them and almost always hit them hard. He has, both from the eye test and numbers, been off balance due to good breaking pitches the last of couple weeks. As a result, he has been unable to get comfortable and hasn’t been able to anticipate the fastballs he usually devours. He benefited from a .388 BABIP in July; however, considering how low it has been recently, it seems fair that his true performance under these conditions exists somewhere in between. That would probably be enough for the Mariners right now.

Whether by focusing on getting his 30th home run or pushing himself to be the hero that the Mariners have needed him to be so many times or any of a million other reasons I can only guess at because I am not Kyle Seager, he has struggled to hit well lately. He's not pulling the ball as much, he's hitting too many ground balls, and he's not making as much hard contact when he does get under it. Reading back on the most notable slump of his career, however, reminded me how that ended, against these same Astros. From Jerry Brewer's recap of that game in the Seattle Times:

For a player who can be oppressively analytical, Seager has been pressing all season, overanalyzing, watching too much video, making too many tweaks. Combine it with his slow finish to last season, and there was fear that opponents had figured him out. But in conversations with hitting coach Howard Johnson and others, he was told to relax and calm down his upper-body movement when he swings. He needed to simplify his approach. His line-drive homer in the seventh was his best swing in weeks.

Then, with the game on the line and a losing streak festering, Seager kept it simple again. Seek fastball. Hit fastball.

The result: joy.

Unabashed joy.

Don’t press Kyle. We know you have it in you.

You’ve done it all before.

Go M’s.

#KeepFighting