The 26-year-old Seager is one of the young cornerstones of the Mariners franchise and has been Seattle’s best hitter for the past two years prior to the arrival of Robinson Cano. Seager’s busy April included a horrid start, an AL Player of the Week Award and a walk-off home run to snap an extended losing streak.
Small sample size is still a factor at this point in the year, but there are still a few important takeaways from Seager’s early-season performance. In any case, it’s become clearer and clearer that Seager is going to have a major impact on how the Mariners perform in 2014.
Seager is still a streaky hitter
Through his first two-and-a-half years in the big leagues, Seager has numerous dominant stretches to go along with some cold spells. April 2014 was no different.
|Mar. 31- Apr. 14||.121||.293||.212||3|
|Apr. 14 - May 3||.297||.348||.578||8|
Just at the point where some were starting to get concerned, Seager ripped off a huge week, April 20 to 27, to return his season numbers to respectability. He shared league player of the week honors with wonder rookie Jose Abreu.
The most important thing at this point is that Seager’s awful first 15 games were just a bump in the road and not indicative of a more long-term problem. Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington explained it best following a series where Seager hit three home runs against the Rangers. Via Adam Lewis of MLB.com, Washington said, "I thought we had him. For a moment I thought he was in a slump. I guess he's not."
His plate discipline numbers are changing
Some interesting trends have emerged with Seager’s plate discipline over the first month of the season. So far, his walk rate is up to career-high 10.4 percent, and he is swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone than at any other point in his career. At the same time, Seager is striking out in 21.7 percent of his plate appearances this season, up a little over four percent from his career rate.
As Seager’s whiff chart on Brooksbaseball.net shows, the pitches he has struggled with the most have been low and away, but he is doing fairly well with everything else.
A number of factors could be influencing Seager’s changing plate discipline numbers. Seattle has a brand new coaching staff with a different approach, including hitting coach Howard Johnson. The Mariners as a whole are striking out a lot, and strikeouts league-wide have been steadily climbing. It could also just be April noise.
In any case, Seager’s plate discipline will be something to keep an eye on through the rest of the season.
Seager will again play in at least 150 games
The only reason Seager is not more known around the league is that poor finishes in both of his full major league seasons have severely hampered his overall numbers. On July 31 of last year, Seager was hitting .298 with 17 home runs and 27 doubles before hitting below .200 in both August and September and seeing his power numbers sharply decline.
There’s no telling what the cause for Seager’s late-season swoons have been, but he played in 155 games in 2012 and 160 a year ago. It could be the case that he simply wore down by the end of the season. That was mostly out of necessity, as the Mariners had no other options at third, but that changed during the offseason with the addition of utility man Willie Bloomquist.
Nobody is going to argue that Bloomquist gives the Mariners a better chance of winning than Seager, so Seager should be in the lineup as much as possible. So far, Bloomquist has started twice at third, and Seager is on pace to play in about 150 games. Maybe that just occasional off day will make a difference come August, and it will be interesting to see if manager Lloyd McClendon is thinking about that along the way.
Leading Seattle in home runs is a possibility
Seager led the Mariners in home runs in 2012 and was third last year behind Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, who are both no longer with the team. The Mariners added some more power with Robinson Cano and Corey Hart, but Seager still leads the team in home runs with five.
Of course, all five of those came in a span of four games. But spurts like that mean Seager could hit 25 to 30 home runs if he can avoid the aforementioned late-season problems. When Seager is locked in, he has the ability to launch some deep shots.
Cano has been getting his hits, and the home runs will eventually come, albeit at a decreased rate moving from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field, but he has some work to do to catch Seager. Hart has more power, but also might not be in the lineup quite enough to overtake Seager by the end of the season.
The Mariners’ success is heavily dependent on Seager
The big question for the Mariners coming into the season was who would produce offensively besides Cano. That placed a lot of pressure on a number of young players, none more so than Seager.
An eight-game losing streak in mid-April coincided with the worst part of Seager’s slump. On April 23, the Mariners were in danger of being swept by the Houston Astros for their ninth consecutive loss, one that could have easily sent things spiraling out of control.
Seager then picked a good time to get out of his slump.
It’s hard to call something in April a “turning point,” but Seager’s two home runs in that game were about as important as they come at that point in the season.
Felix Hernandez leads the parade out of the dugout to greet Kyle Seager after walk-off three-run homer. Boy, did #Mariners need that.— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) April 23, 2014
McClendon highlighted how important it was that Seager finally turned things around after the game, via Greg Johns of MLB.com:
He has a track record, and I've said all along he's going to hit. Obviously when you're in a losing streak and the guys you expect to hit don't hit, it's a little frustrating. But in that case, you have two options: You can sit 'em or you can play 'em. I chose to play him and he didn't disappoint. I think he's going to be just fine.
The Mariners have now won six out of their last eight games to get to one game under .500, thanks in large part to Seager. If he produces more like his last 15 games then his first 14, Seattle might be able to hang around in the division race just a little longer.