WHICH NUMBERS REALLY MATTER IN ASSESSING SEAGER’S SEASON?

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   TACOMA, WA. — It was interesting to hear Kyle Seager explain his mindset Saturday after hitting a game-tying, two-run double in the ninth inning that positioned the Mariners for a 4-3 comeback victory at Arizona.

   “What’s cool about baseball,” he said, “is that it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done before that. It’s not like your season starts over or anything like that, but what you’ve done in your previous 400-500 at-bats doesn’t matter at that moment.

   “It’s just that one at-bat. It’s a cool game in that sense.”

   Seager packs a healthy dose of self-improvement philosophy in those few sentences. Turning your life around, in any sense, starts now. It starts with what you do next and in going forward.

   That’s not the point of this column.

   It’s been a miserable season, in many ways, for Seager, who is batting just .221 with a .270 on-base percentage. Those numbers, and many others, are significantly below his career norms.

   But look closer.

   If Seager continues on his current pace, he will finish with 37 doubles, 25 homers and 88 RBIs. Those numbers are all, almost exactly, his career norms.

   Here we get to the point of this column.

   Kyle Seager could be Exhibit A in any discussion regarding defensive shifts and — and this is key — the best analytical approach to countering those shifts.

   That’s according to three front-office analysts for rival organizations.

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   Seager’s batting average on balls in play (babip) is also at a career low. A low babip used to be regarded as a simply a run of bad luck that, over time, would correct itself.

   Increasingly, though, analysts say a low babip indicates a player is hitting into the shift. Seager’s babip dipped significantly over the last two seasons. That seems to suggest this is the new normal rather than an outlier of bad luck.

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   So what should Seager do? All three analysts hesitated to speak about him specifically, but I think their general observations come pretty close to the mark.

   You judge.

   All three contend that numbers show pull hitters are generally more productive when they try to hit through and over the shift rather than in seeking to beat it by going the opposite way.

   The reason? Even among those players who can hit the ball to all fields, very few can do so with power. Further, asking a power pull hitter to adjust his swing and approach it, even if he proves capable, typically diminishes his power.

   Analytics say that’s a bad tradeoff.

   “Beating the shift usually means getting a single,” one analyst said. “Hitting into the shift often results in losing a single. But a line drive into the gap, almost always, is still going to get down, and there’s no defense against a home run.”

   The argument, it seems, is you’re better off losing a bunch of singles if you can maintain a high number of extra-base hits, which helps explain why “exit velocity” and “launch angle” are now baseball’s coin of the realm.

   None of this is to suggest that Seager is having a good year at the plate. The numbers say he’s swinging at more pitches this season that are outside of the strike zone. Correct that, and everything gets better.

   But the takeaway I got from those three analysts is Seager shouldn’t change his swing or his basic pull approach. That when it comes to what matters, his bad year isn’t nearly as bad as it might initially seem.