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The Future of Kyle Seager

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What does the future hold in store for the Hot Corner himself?

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers
See ball, hit ball, shift happens
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Manny Machado sweepstakes is dominating the offseason news right around now — with the White Sox pursuing his friends & family members like NFL teams pursue people who have met Sean McVay — so maybe it’s a good time to remember that the state of third base has arguably never been better.

Solid starters are having trouble finding any traction on the open market; look no further than Mike Moustakas, who was worth over two fWAR each of the past two seasons but was forced to sign a one-year deal with the Royals in 2018 before languishing on the market this offseason. And with strong young players like Rafael Devers and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. poised to establish themselves as stars, this doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

It’s that backdrop that Kyle Seager is measured against. At a thinner position, Seager’s .221/.273/.400 slash line (even with his stellar defense) would be disappointing given his contract, but it’d be easy to feel better and more secure about his future at the hot corner. Instead, however, his deal is a liability that has many M’s fans clamoring for his departure.

Just how stacked is third base? League-wide, major league teams averaged 2.7 bWAR of production at third base, second only to shortstop among individual positions. In other words, you must be an above-average starter, period, in order to be just an average third baseman.

That leads me to wonder — with three years and $56 million remaining on his deal, not to mention a club option for a fourth, is there room for hope regarding Kyle Seager, or is last season a sign of things to come?

I decided to take a look at this question through the lens of our own Ben Thoen, who posited a good question: How many seasons will Seager post, over the remainder of his career, with an fWAR total that tops last season’s 1.6?

For starters, Seager is 31, which already portends bad things. There’s plenty of research around aging curves for ballplayers, but in case you’re short on time, I’ll give you the long and short of it: 31-year-old players, unlike fine wines, will not get better with age. To compound things, the league-wide trend toward shifts doesn’t figure to diminish barring a Rob Manfred directive, and that’s been hugely damaging to Seager.

Two things give me hope, however:

  • New hitting coach Tim Laker

Sometimes, you just need new ideas and a little change of scenery. Laker, who served as the Diamondbacks’ assistant hitting coach for the last two seasons, can provide just that, and I’d wager Seager is atop his list of priorities in 2019.

The early word has thus far been encouraging. Multiple articles praise Laker for his “great combination of both swing mechanics and offensive approach” and his combination of analytical data with scouting insights. From the latest episode of The Wheelhouse:

And this gem is especially applicable to our boy Seager:

Part of the issue with Seager has been his propensity of late to roll over on ground balls rather than wait and hit the ball the opposite way. If Laker can help him drive the ball to all fields, as mentioned above, his .251 BABIP figures to increase.

  • Luck will even out...right?

It’s impossible not to notice the strikeout numbers. Seager struck out almost 22% of the time last season, a career high by about four percentage points. But there’s reason to believe that this is an outlier, not the beginning of the (tr)end. Alex Chamberlain wrote a piece for Fangraphs yesterday in which he creates an expected K percentage statistic and measures which hitters under- or over-performed in 2018.

Two Mariners feature at the top of the list: Edwin Encarnacion, whose days in navy blue and northwest green seem limited, and Kyle Seager. Not only was he +2.3% compared to his expected K rate, he spent 2015–17 at -1.6%. If Seager could just have that luck even out at zero, he would’ve hit .246 last season — a much more palatable figure.

All this brings me back to Ben’s question. How many seasons above 1.6 fWAR will Kyle Seager have for the rest of his career? I’d go with two, because while I do think the talent is still there, he’ll be simultaneously doing battle with Father Time. I doubt he’ll be a key member of the next core Mariners team in the playoffs, given the current state of the roster. But Kyle Seager has proven doubters wrong before, and I’m sure he’ll be champing at the bit to do the same this time around as well.