Corey Seager Is Getting Similar Results With a Different Approach
In case you haven't been paying attention to the 2017 MLB regular season, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been good. Like, really good.
They not only hold an 18.5-game lead in the National League West heading into action on Wednesday, but there's quite a bit of historical context with regard to their current 84-34 record.
The @dodgers are the 8th team in the Live Ball era to reach 50 games above .500 before losing their 35th game (h/t @EliasSports). pic.twitter.com/xYvKcAfjgN
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 16, 2017
So, what does this mean? For the Dodgers to be this good, the entire roster has to contribute, and that's certainly been the case. But with Justin Turner leading the league in hitting and Cody Bellinger basically running away with the NL Rookie of the Year award, shortstop Corey Seager appears to be flying under the radar a bit, which seems crazy.
This is a guy who's fresh off winning the Rookie of the Year award himself in 2016, along with placing third in NL MVP voting. Yet here we are in the middle of August, and the two-time All-Star is putting together a performance that looks awfully similar to the one that got him so much attention last season. What's even more impressive is his approach he's taken toward arriving at these numbers, which has been quite different.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
It feels like we've been hearing about Seager for quite a while now, but that's generally what happens with top prospects. They get hyped for a long time and we forget how young they actually are once they finally make it to the big leagues. This is exactly what's happened with Seager -- although he's in his third big league campaign (second full season), he's still only 23-years-old.
This is part of the reason why his consistently elite production as an every-day shortstop has been so darn impressive. When comparing his 2016 performance to what he's done so far this year, the numbers don't look terribly different from one another. The below table shows how his OPS, Isolated Power (ISO), BABIP, wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR have changed from one year to the next.
Steamer is projecting Seager to add another 1.5 wins to his fWAR over the final month and a half, so if he keeps this pace up, he'll fall a little short in that department. But anyway you slice it, he's once again been an elite player for Los Angeles.
Asking a 23-year-old to follow up an MVP-caliber campaign with either the same -- or better -- numbers the following season is a tall order. Being on a historically great team certainly takes some of the pressure off, but how exactly has Seager been able to do what he's doing at the plate?
As one can imagine, the improvements he's made basically go hand-in-hand with each other, with the first one being his plate discipline.
Entering the 2017 season, Seager was the owner of a respectable 8.5% walk rate and 19.0% strikeout rate through his first 800 career plate appearances. While he's been striking out a little more often than that so far this year (22.1%), he's also been drawing a lot more walks (12.6%). And if we compare the plate-discipline numbers first 800 plate appearances and most recent 475, we can see why there's been a change.
The below table shows how his chase rate (O-Swing%), percentage of swings inside the strike zone (Z-Swing%), the corresponding contact rates, and swinging-strike rate (SwStr%) have transformed from his cup of coffee in the bigs in 2015 to what he's done thus far in 2017.
Seager entered this year with a career swing rate of 52.6%, so the current 48.3% rate at which he's offering at pitches is a significant drop, and one that has impacted him across the board.
Chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone is always a good thing, and while his swing and contact rates on pitches inside the strike zone are both above the league average this year, it would've been nice if they didn't also decrease.
What could make up for that difference, though, is doing more damage with the balls he's making contact with. Based off his results to this point, that's been the biggest difference between Seager's first two full big league campaigns.
Rising to the Top
Most of the year, we've been focused on guys like Aaron Judge and Miguel Sano, who have been pacing the rest of the league with regard to hard-hit rate. And more recently, Giancarlo Stanton is getting a ton of attention for his recent streak of homers (and rightfully so). But if you head over to the hard-hit rate leaderboard on FanGraphs, guess who is sitting at the top among qualified hitters?
That'd be Corey Seager and his 48.4% hard-hit rate. And for good measure, his 10.7% soft-hit rate is the fourth lowest in baseball heading into action on Wednesday. Those are both huge changes from what he did as a rookie (39.7% and 12.7%, respectively).
He's also taken a step forward in other areas of his batted-ball profile -- after posting an impressive 24.4% line-drive rate last year, that number is now up to 25.0% in 2017. The young shortstop has also managed to decrease his ground balls (46.3% to 40.3%) and increase his fly balls (29.3% to 34.7%) in the process.
The numbers are only slightly better when compared to his impressive rookie season, but if his process continues to improve like it has in 2017, who knows what Seager could eventually accomplish at the plate as he continues approaching his prime.