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40 in 40: Kyle Lewis

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The reigning AL Rookie of the Year has many chapters to write

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners - Game Two Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Kyle Lewis enters the 2021 season in a strange state of being underrated and over-hyped at the same time, depending on who you ask or perhaps where you live. I guess that’s what happens when you unanimously win the AL Rookie of the Year award during a 60-game season while playing for the often forgotten Seattle Mariners. While many baseball writers had Luís Robert of the Chicago White Sox tabbed as the ROY favorite, Lewis built upon his impressive 2019 debut and left no doubt among BBWWA voters.

FanGraphs

As Managing Editor Kate Preusser brilliantly wrote about this past November, one of Lewis’s catchphrases he used for inspiration during his grueling knee injury rehab is that we all write our own story. I hear the philosophy wonks out there clearing their throats, and that’s fair. But, as history has shown us time and time again, the most successful athletes tend have a single-minded dedication to their craft, and part of that single-mindedness requires one to maintain the ideal of control over your actions. Even if it’s an illusion, it’s necessary to have as a foothold when you’re staring up a Mt. Rainier-sized rehab process in order to even have a slim chance at making it to the Major Leagues one day.

And that’s exactly what Kyle Lewis has already accomplished. The rest? Well, yes, that’s extremely difficult, too. To continue to be a productive everyday center fielder at the Major League level would be a massive challenge for anyone, let alone someone like Lewis who has already overcome numerous challenges and setbacks during his time in the minor leagues.

MLB: Game Two-Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

And yet, per PECOTA and ZiPS, Lewis isn’t even slated to be the most valuable player on the roster. Regression is that dirty word that Lewis has yet to escape. Staff Writer Joe Doyle wrote at length in August 2020 about the ways Lewis was continuing to keep regression at bay, most notably with his ability to the ball to all fields and his very low pull-percentage, but also pointing out that hitting the ball up in the air needs to be a high priority for Lewis going forward. Take it away, Joe:

In his MLB career, Lewis has hit 20 fly balls. 9 of those have left the ballpark. It’s a 45 percent HR/FB%. For perspective, if he were to retire today, Lewis would own the highest HR/FB% in the history of baseball for any and all players with at least 100 plate appearances. If it wasn’t obvious already, Lewis needs to focus on getting the ball in the air, so covering fastballs at the top of the zone will be paramount.

At the end of the day, what we’re seeing from Lewis is nothing short of extraordinary. The approach has clearly improved by just about any measure, regardless of the ever-present swing-and-miss in his game. He’s a legitimate power hitter in Major League Baseball. A year ago I might have guffawed at the idea of Lewis being a full-time regular in a championship team’s outfield. Today, that is not the case.

Need more convincing? Remember that time he ended Justin Verlander’s career season on Opening Day?

“Aaaand excuse coming in 3..... 2...... 1......”
gif by Joe Doyle

Or The Catch in the ill-advised wildfire smoke double-header?

What did Lewis get up to this offseason? He helped provide COVID-relief and aid to families in need in Atlanta with the Player’s Alliance and perfected his smoothie-making technique and recipes, too. Healthy pandemic activities only for this Rookie of the Year!

@klew_1 on Instagram

To me, baseball (like everything else) was very weird and ultimately forgettable in 2020. The two highlights I shared above are pretty much the only two plays that really stick out in my mind from that goofy season and Kyle Lewis was responsible for both. I know that means nothing of real consequence, but because of his impressive season, he rightfully carries the hopes and expectations of Mariners fans everywhere and we’re about to find out how the next chapter of his story goes. I’m ready to dig in.