Kyle Seager and his worst enemy: Facing the Shift

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - APRIL 07: Kyle Seager #15 of the Seattle Mariners. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - APRIL 07: Kyle Seager #15 of the Seattle Mariners. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

For the better part of his career, Mariners fans were all happy about Kyle Seager. Through his first six full seasons, he was a .264/.333/.450 hitter. He averaged 25 HR and 85 RBI a year, while playing solid defense (1.1 dWar per year average), and even earning a Gold Glove in 2014 in his lone All-Star season.

However, things have changed a bit since the 2017 season. His average has dropped to .227, even though he is hitting more HR and driving in more RBI on a per-game basis. What gives?

Well, it turns out the worst enemy of Kyle Seager is the Shift

Check out how often Seager faces the shift, and where he ranks compared to the rest of the league.

RankShift %Shift PAShift wOBANon-Shift %Non-Shift PANon-Shift wOBA

You know what pops out to me when I look at this? The first is that, obviously, he is facing the shift more often than ever. He’s been in the top 20 plenty of times, but at 91.7%, that’s just a mountainous number. Last year was a bit funky, so I’m not gonna weigh the .350 wOBA too heavily.

What I notice more though, is that once Kyle Seager started seeing it a lot in 2018, it’s like he changed how he hit, and wouldn’t make adjustments when NOT facing the shift. His wOBA should be higher against non-shift setups (no one deep at second/shallow right) as it allows him to rip those shots through the second base gap. It seems that he has it ingrained into his head to try and avoid it, and no longer goes there if possible regardless of the situation.

The part that makes this really stand out is 2017. In 2016, he faced it about 50/50. He had 27 home runs and 33 2B’s, but his batting average dipped by 30 points compared to 2016.

Seager has definitely made a change in 2021, leading to him tying the career-high in HR. He already has 30 with 30+ games remaining, and it’s due to the FB% rate change this year. He was between 32% and 33% from 2018-2020, but has jumped to 38.3% this year. He’s not just trying to hit it in the air though. He’s trying to pull them for home runs. His pull rate in 2010 was 35.6% and 35.8% in 2020. This year, it’s risen to 46.3%.

It’s led to a massive increase in his Barrel Rate, setting a new career-high by an extra 3%, up at 13.1%. The batting average has taken a hit though, falling to a career-low of .218. Strikeouts are up to a career-high rate as well at 24.5% in 2021.  What it means is that Seager has become a completely different hitter. He’s looking for homers and quicker impact run opportunities for the team, at the expense of more hits.

So, we need to decide, is the change worth it? It doesn’t seem like he can figure out a different way around the shift, so hitting for more power is his answer. With average defense at third now, his glove is no longer a plus, but a neutral. Do you want to keep Kyle Seager around? Personally, I’m fine keeping him around at a lower rate and letting him retire a Mariner. He still has pop, the team loves him, and he and his family seem to love Seattle. What do you think?