clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

40 in 40: Seby Zavala is inevitable

Or, I mean, maybe he’s just here. He’s just a man.

MLB: JUL 07 White Sox at Twins
nice

It’s not fair to begrudge Seby Zavala for being part of the trade that signified the end of the far-too-short Good Vibes era of Mariners baseball. But damn, I did find this article hard to write, as it forces me to once more process the fact that we will not see Eugenio Suarez in Northwest Green this season, barring force majeurry.

Seby Zavala, of course, came to the Seattle Mariners, along with Carlos Vargas, in exchange for one of the most fun Mariners in recent memory, Eugenio Suarez.

This trade had many Mariners fans searching for answers, asking questions such as, “Why?” and also, “What is a ‘Seby Zavala’?”

Let’s start with the second question. What is a Seby Zavala?

Chicago White Sox v Atlanta Braves
low-key a snack tbh
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

Seby Zavala is a former 12th-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox. Seby Zavala is an alumnus of San Diego State University. Seby Zavala is the second-most successful player from his draft class out of San Diego State behind his new teammate, Ty France (fun!).

Zavala found his way to Seattle after a short stint in Arizona backing up Gabriel Moreno. Before that, he was playing in the South Side, as the back up for Yasmani Grandal. He is, despite being 30 years old, under team control through 2027, as he was a bit of a late bloomer for Chicago.

Alright, that was easy enough. Now, the more interesting question: Why? As in, why is he here?

Given that Cal Raleigh had the third-most fWAR among catchers in MLB last season, it is safe to say that Seby is not going to be pushing Cal for his starting spot. Despite optimism from some that the signing of Mitch Garver would potentially disappear Zavala from the lineup, Seby Zavala is undeniably, inevitably, here to be the Mariner’s primary backup catcher. Let’s evaluate him as such.

Evaluating back-up players is an interesting endeavor, one that’s a little more slippery than evaluating a starter. So, I asked the sLLack: What do you want from your backup catcher?

Ben Thoen gave probably the most concise answer: “a dude with average defense that would be like, a .230/.310/.380, 10 HR over the course of 150 games worth of playing time”

So, will Zavala live up to Ben’s hopes?

The Defense

Houston Astros v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

First, throughout his career, he has been known as a high-quality defensive backstop. His 2022 Statcast numbers behind the plate are eerily similar to Cal Raleigh’s:

Seby Zavala
Baseball Savant
Cal Raleigh
Baseball Savant

His 2023 was more of a downer behind the plate, but it is fair to claim “small sample size” on that front, especially given his reputation since he was drafted in 2015. He’s shown a consistent ability to steal strikes, with an above average frame-rate, find the most success at the top of the zone. This is notable given that several Mariners pitchers, in particular George Kirby, love to pump fastballs up at the letters as an out pitch.

He’s been strong against the steal as well, though, again, last year he was a little worse, as his pop-time went from 1.96 seconds to 2.00 seconds. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to take him from league average to the 18th percentile - baseball is a game of inches and milliseconds.

But again, SSS, and it’s not like he didn’t have any success in 2023. Here he is, nailing the Narrow-Hipped Prince himself at second base.

Interestingly, Zavala actually improved on his “exchange time” (getting the ball from the glove to your hand) by .05 seconds - he’s losing a tenth of a second elsewhere. This, to me, looks like a candidate for some positive regression.

Beyond the Statcast numbers for him, Zavala has long been praised by pitchers for the other important work that goes into playing his position - working with a staff. In 2021, Lance Lynn said of Zavala, “he’s the whole package as a catcher back there, behind the plate.” This is high praise coming from a man who had the pleasure of pitching to Yadier Molina from 2011-2017.

It is safe to say that Zavala provides at least average (and probably above average) defense behind the plate.

The Offense

MLB: SEP 12 Diamondbacks at Mets
ouchie
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Next, Ben asked for .230/.310/.380, 10 HR over 150 games. Let’s take a look at the last 150-or-so games of his career (accounting for some pinch-hitting appearances).

Untitled

PA AVG OBP SLG HR wRC+ K% B%
PA AVG OBP SLG HR wRC+ K% B%
456 0.213 0.276 0.341 11 71 34.90% 7%
meh? but not that bad tbh?

Well…almost? He’s honestly not too far off base here. The dude isn’t gonna nab a Silver Slugger, but as far as back-up catchers go, well…it could be worse. There’s hope for his bat, especially, looking at his strong 2022, when he posted a wRC+ of 110, in comparison to 2023, registering a meager 45.

What changed? Well, for most of 2023 he was pounding the ball straight into the ground: 29.4% in 2022 vs 40.4% in 2023. This seems like a correction that Jarret DeHart and the hitting staff should hopefully be able to help Zavala make, especially given that after his late season move to Arizona last season, there were signs of improvement.

Here is a list of interesting things about Zavala as a hitter:

His batting average on fastballs has consistently been about 40-50 points lower than against breaking balls, and his slugging percentage even more so. Both are significantly lower than against off-speed stuff, which he has demolished.

His worst zone, by run value created, is the heart of the plate - he generates the least value on pitches thrown center center, generating more and more value as we get further from the heart of the zone.

He swings a lot on pitches in the zone, and he swings a lot on pitches out of the zone

He makes below average contact on those swings both in and out of the zone.

He swings at the first pitch 46% more than the average hitter.

What does this all add up to? Honestly, I don’t quite know - I’m not much of a hitting guru. Frankly, it could be as simple as having slightly less hand-eye coordination than other MLB hitters. There could be a hole in his swing, though his swing is fairly compact and direct. His head might move a little bit too much, but not an alarming amount. He simply might be a mediocre MLB hitter.


At the end of the day, Seby Zavala can be a perfectly serviceable backup catcher for the 2024 Mariners. He likely won’t post the 1.9 fWAR he generated in 2022, but he also will likely be better than the 0.2 he scraped together last season. He has a good glove and is athletic enough behind the plate - it’s likely that he ends up as a preferred catcher for one of the five studs in the rotation. He can spell Cal here and there without being too much of a gaping hole in the lineup.

He’s enough. Or at least, he can be.