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40 in 40: Kyle Seager

The Mariners’ steady hand will adjust, again.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez are the only two stars to have developed in Seattle’s system since the Mariners’ last playoff trip in 2001. Félix, like Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, was a generational talent. Even Seattle’s poor luck and spotty record with player development couldn’t stand in the way of The King. But despite acquiring talented young players, Seattle’s development of home-grown production floundered. It was most egregious in the draft, with eight top-12 picks in 10 years from 2005-2014 delivering little salvation. Time after time the farm has yielded a withered harvest.

All but one seed. Below is a chart of the total wins above replacement generated as Mariners by the collective draft classes of each year since 2001. I suspect you’ll be able to pick out the Kyle Seager draft.

Five of the last 15 draft classes have yielded below replacement-level results for the Mariners. Aren’t you glad you read this fun caption?
Baseball Reference

Along with a disappointing but still productive Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin, the 2009 draft class comprises over half of the 66.7 bWAR that Seattle has accrued through the draft this millennium. Kyle Seager has generated over 40% of that by himself. He’s done it by being consistently excellent, but that excellence is the product of constant adjustments. He’ll need another round of tweaking to get back to his peak in 2018.

Last spring it was defense, prompted by a career high number of errors in 2016. He dropped from 22 to just 14 in 2017, and advanced metrics seemed to credit him with improvement as well. The year before that, the goal was was improving his OBP. Kyle boosted his BB% from 7.9% in 2015 to 10.2% in 2016, en route to a career-best line of .278/.359/.499 with 30 HRs and a 132 wRC+. Years earlier, Seager was appraised by his limitations. You can judge for yourself if he exceeded them.

Baseball America

This year, as it was when he was first drafted, an adjustment to his swing plane needs to be made. His play last year was solid, but unremarkable, and ended up being his worst full season as a pro. We’ve already looked at Kyle’s launch angle issues, and how a slight shift can reinvigorate his bat. Even in the age of the Fly Ball Revolution, a 51.6% fly ball rate brands Kyle as an extremist. But Seager’s relatively low infield fly ball rate (just 5% of those fly balls) suggests Seager retains excellent bat control. Kyle wasn’t missing the target consistently, so instead of re-learning to hit a target, he just needs to change the trajectory of the target itself.

He will make the adjustments necessary because that’s what Kyle Seager does. Traditional scouting gives us information on character and player makeup, and sabermetrics push us to look for trustworthy sample sizes. Kyle’s initial scouting report establishes a foundation of the hard-working, well-respected player we’ve come to see at the major league level, and sabermetrics display a pattern of improvement and self-evaluation that can reasonably be projected forward.

Kyle’s consistency poses a challenge for a writer at times. There are only so many ways to describe Seager as underrated (over 11,000, according to Google) without stepping on the excellent work of others. Within the 40 in 40 series alone, Seager’s spirit has been captured eloquently and evocatively. Seager’s gradual improvement has been outlined and his production appreciated. We’ve seen Kyle outdo Pablo Sandoval, match zoological wits with Chooch, dare to hasten Jered Weaver, and even land a low blow on the opposition. Most of all, in the six-and-a-half seasons since poor Jose Yepez was DFA’d to make space for Seager on the 40-man, we’ve had someone we could trust.

We still do.