Corey Seager – Superhero or Sidekick?
Corey Seager, at 23 years old, has just two professional seasons under his belt and already has more hardware at home than his 30-year-old brother. He was the runaway Rookie of the Year in 2016. He has two All-Star appearances, two Silver Slugger awards, 26 games played in the playoffs, and a collection of MVP votes. His swing is a thing of beauty, and his career triple slash (.305/.374/.502) line is so close to the coveted .300/.400/.500 that I’m sure it keeps opposing pitchers up at night.
Seager is coming off another strong season for the Dodgers in which he hit .295 with 22 home runs, 77 RBI, 85 runs scored and an .854 OPS in 145 games. His batting average ranked an impressive 30th overall among 144 qualified hitters, and his per-game run production was outstanding (0.6 Runs Per Game). Seager has definitely earned the right to hit toward the top of the Dodgers’ powerful lineup. He spent 137 games batting second for the Dodgers last year, and that’s again where he’s projected to bat in 2018.
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A high batting average and a strong OBP aren’t the only things that have helped Seager achieve such a premium lineup position, though. As a young left-handed hitter, his ability to handle lefties is quite the feat and separates him from many young southpaw-swinging sluggers who can’t do the same. The word “handle” might also be underselling his production against left-handers. Among 144 qualified hitters in 2017, Seager’s .325 batting average ranked 22nd, and his .916 OPS was 35th in the same group. Not bad for a 23-year-old. Strong splits are just the beginning. When you really break down his approach and his underlining skills, Seager’s bat is incredible.
Starting with his plate skills, Seager takes his fair share of walks and limits his strikeouts to just 21% of the time (2017 MLB AVG 22%). His strikeout percentage has actually been increasing slightly each of the last three years, but not enough to impact the rest of his production (17% – 2015, 19% – 2016, 21% – 2017). In fact, according to Statcast, Seager was unlucky in the batting average department in 2017 when compared to the rest of the league. Last year his xBA (Expected Batting Average) was .291. Wait? This is the part where you ask me, “Didn’t Seager have a .295 batting average last year? How does that make him unlucky?” Yes, he did, but it’s important to understand context in stats like this. xBa, like most formula-based projections, tend to be pessimistic, especially when looking at something as fickle as batting average. An xBa of .291 had Seager as the ninth-highest expected batting average among qualified hitters in 2017. Much better than his .295 batting average, which ranked 30th in baseball.
The main reason Seager projects as a top producer in batting average are his batted-ball tendencies. Seager uses his all-fields approach by taking the ball where it’s pitched and drives the ball on a line right back where it came from. His 25% line drive rate last year was top-10 in the league, and his 44% hard-hit rate was historically high. Seager’s 2017 hard-hit rate is the 24th-best hard-hit rate of the last 15 years (since hard hit rates have been captured).
Hard-hit rate is far from scientific, and even I’m skeptical at times, but one thing that confirms Seager’s hard-hit rate as authentic is his elite level exit velocity. It’s rare that you have a balanced hitter, with his all-fields, line-drive approach, that still ranks top-25 in the league in exit velocity. Seager did it, though. His 89.7 MPH Average Exit Velocity ranked 22nd among qualified hitters in 2017.
The outlook for Seager this year has a lot of profit earning potential when you consider a fourth-round pick could return close to a .300 batting average with 30 home runs, 90 runs, and 90 RBI. I would like his home run production to take another step forward, which would make this projection his upside, but it’s definitely obtainable.
Seager, for whatever reason, often gets overshadowed by those around him. Since he was a kid, I’m sure he’s been compared to his older brother, who was a major leaguer long before Corey got his break. Even on his own team, Seager sees less of the spotlight with Yasiel Puig’s antics and the emergence of Cody Bellinger and his unbelievable breakout season. The shortstop position is one of the most stacked positions in the league, flooded with top-tier talent and some of the best the game has to offer. Seager might always be tied to his brother or even Bellinger as a part of a dynamic duo, but don’t be fooled. He is one of the best hitters in the game, and he is nobody’s sidekick.
2018 Player Profiles