Last season was easily the worst season of Kyle Seager’s career — during his rookie year in 2011 his wRC+ was 96, in 2018 it was 84. It capped off a two year slide from the best season of his career as the shift has hampered his offensive production.
That’s been the biggest concern, publicity wise, regarding the 31-year old’s declining performance. As the shift has become a bigger part of the game over the last two seasons, you’ve seen a decrease in the number of line drives and grounders finding their way into the outfield for hits. Because of that, he’s getting on base less; the decline in his batting average on balls in play over the last three seasons supports that argument, Seager’s BABIP dropped from .291 in 2016 to .262 in ’17 and then all the way down to .251 last year.
But when I was digging through his numbers, an even more disturbing trend caught my attention. It looks like Seager has been having a harder time laying off of the breaking balls than he did during his best season. In the below table, I layed out his swing percentages at the most common breaking pitches he faces outside the zone, inside the zone, and his overall swing percentage against those pitch types.
|YEAR||PITCH TYPE/PITCHES FACED||O-SWING%||Z-SWING%||SWING%|
|2016||Sinker/500||23.2 %||61.6 %||42.4 %|
|2016||Slider/379||35.2 %||58.6 %||44.6 %|
|2016||Curveball/327||27.2 %||43.0 %||33.0 %|
|2017||Sinker/490||22.0 %||59.3 %||41.6 %|
|2017||Slider/429||27.8 %||62.0 %||42.4 %|
|2017||Curveball/321||23.4 %||50.8 %||34.1 %|
|2018||Sinker/481||30.0 %||62.2 %||47.0 %|
|2018||Slider/388||40.3 %||63.0 %||49.7 %|
|2018||Curveball/289||28.2 %||53.0 %||38.1 %|
Now at first glance, the immediate reaction is to notice that he’s overall he’s swinging off at less breaking balls outside of the zone. But that’s not necessarily true, in 2017 he swung less at pitches outside of the zone; but that trend reversed itself in 2018. The veteran third baseman also was also winging at more breaking balls in general.
Seager especially liked swinging at sliders last season as it was the second highest rate o-swing rate for a full season at the major league level — his career high was 2012, when he swung at 45.3% of sliders outside of the strike zone.
As the veteran third baseman swung at more breaking pitches in general his strikeout rate skyrocketed to a career high 21.9% and his walk rate plummeted to a career low of 6%. The 31-year old has become an easier out at the plate because he’s so willing to swing at the breaking stuff. It honestly seems like he’s pressing and trying to increase his contact rate by swinging at more bad pitches; instead it’s lead to a decreasing contact rate — 82.6% in 2016 to 78.8% last year — and a higher strikeout rate.
Despite the fact that he’s swinging at more softer pitches, designed to get hitters out in front of them to induce weak contact, Seager posted the second highest hard hit rate of his career last year (his career high was in 2016, duh). Hell, he even posted the lowest soft contact rate of his career…and it’s not even close.
Baseball is stupid sometimes.
To return more to his career norms in production, Seager is going to not only have to beat the shift…he’s also going to have to become a harder out at the plate by swinging at less junk.