Seager pinpointed the issues to his some of his fielding inconsistency last season and addressed them in the offseason.
PEORIA, Ariz. — The look returns to Kyle Seager’s face. It’s one part annoyance, another part aggravation with plenty of disgust and frustration tossed in.
It’s arises when Seager does something on a baseball field that he believes is unacceptable for himself. A perfectionist and often his harshest critic, Seager suffers his mistakes with minimal sympathy for himself or any mitigating circumstance of the situation.
But on a gorgeous sun-soaked Tuesday morning, just days into spring training workouts, what could possibly bring back such irritated scowl.
Well, it started as he thought about the 2016 season.
“There were some positive things and some negative things,” Seager said.
The positives are easy to list. Seager put together another outstanding season, hitting .278 (166 for 597) with 36 doubles, three triples, 30 home runs, 99 RBI, a .359 on-base percentage and a .499 slugging percentage in 158 games. He posted a 5.5 Wins Above Replacement per Fangraphs, the highest of his career.
He set career highs in home runs with 30 (previous: 26, 2015), RBI with 99 (previous: 96, 2014), batting average at .278 (previous: .268, 2014), runs with 89 (previous; 85, 2015), OBP at .359 (previous: .338, 2013), slugging percentage at .499 (previous: .454, 2014), walks with 69 (previous: 68, 2013) and game-winning RBI with 11 (previous: 10, 2012). He finished with 36 doubles, one shy of his career best (37, 2015).
Among American League third basemen, Seager tied for second in RBI, third in on-base percentage, tied for third in runs, fourth in doubles, fourth in extra-base hits (69), fourth in OPS (.859), fifth in hits, fifth in slugging percentage and sixth in home runs.
And yet … there were the 22 errors he committed at third base — most of any AL third baseman. Those were the the glaring negatives. The simple thought of them left Seager shaking his head making “that look.”
“I don’t love the errors,” he said. “I don’t know how they do all the sabermetric stuff. I don’t know how they do all the calculations. The only thing I know is that I felt like I got to some balls that I hadn’t got to in the past, but I felt like I made a lot of errors that I shouldn’t have made.
Per advanced analytics, Seager saved 15 runs per the Defensive Runs Saved metric and posting a 6.2 defensive WAR per Fangraphs, rating has above average defensively. But the errors still consumed his thoughts.
“For me, I was concentrating more on the negative of that,” he said. “I could quantify that. I didn’t know about the other stuff. It was a little bit of a strange season in the sense that I was thinking of it as very negative and sabermetrics were saying it was a positive. For me, I’m looking more at the errors and how I can get rid of those.”
Being a Gold Glove finalist at third base offered minimal solace.
“I was certainly honored,” he said. “That’s an unbelievable list to be on. I have a lot of respect for them. It was an honor, but it was hard for me to get past the errors. I remember talking to (wife) Julie about this. I remember saying, ‘I really feel like I’m doing things better than I did in the past and I’m making plays that I wouldn’t get to in years past, but I need to quit making these stupid errors where I put myself in such bad position. It’s taking away all enjoyment for me.'”
By the end of last season, Seager identified the root of the issue. He had committed a majority of the errors on ground balls to his left because of poor footwork.
“It was basically a bad step that led to two or three steps,” he said. “Third base is mostly a reactionary position. There are certain balls that happen where if you make the right first move, the play looks extremely easy and you don’t even realize it was a hard play. And if you make the wrong move, it looks like a very difficult play. I made plays look a lot harder than they needed to.”
It all stemmed from the first step that Seager would take on those ground balls.
“Basically at third, you are going to go one of four ways,” Seager said, pointing the directions of his first step.
They are forward and angling right or left or backward angling left or right. Seager got in trouble because on balls to his left, that first step was neither backward nor forward.
“If your first step is this way (back left), you can always go forward,” he said. “Instead of creating the good angle to my left, I was crossing over (parallel to the baseline) and then tried to go back. And I was putting myself in a really, really bad position where my hands weren’t free to work and I had no room to move. I was getting a lot of in between hops. You just put yourself in a bad spot.”
An in-between hop is the most difficult in baseball to field consistently. And Seager was making himself have more than normal.
“I did it numerous times last year,” he said. “I’ve watched way too many videos of me putting myself in that position.”
The first time Seager learned about those issues was working with former infield coach Chris Woodward, who was instrumental in helping Seager take the next step as a defender and winning a Gold Glove in 2014.
“He showed me these different things and stuff I never thought about,” he said.
Seager knew something was awry in his footwork last season.
“You can feel it right away,” he said. “I could feel it last year. I felt my angles were really shallow and I wasn’t getting deep at all. But I didn’t know why.”
Seager thinks working on other aspects of fielding may have influenced that regression. He was never a natural third baseman coming up. Projected as a second baseman or utility infielder by many scouts when he was drafted back in 2009, he’s turned himself into a quality defensive third baseman, steadily improving each year.
“I had to train so hard to attack the ball,” he said. “Attacking it at third was a strange concept to me. If a ball is hit hard at me, why do I want to go get it? It didn’t make too much sense in the beginning. Now it makes perfect sense. I put so much emphasis doing that that I got away from my foundation.”
But with the help of current infield coach Tim Bogar and lots of video, they were able to figure out the issues late in the season.
“I was searching last year and couldn’t get it right,” he said. “And I had a couple really good talks with Bogey about it. He got me doing some drills.”
In typical Seager fashion, he attacked his perceived weakness with intensity and hours of work with those new drills.
“I certainly addressed them in the offseason and I started to address at the end of last year,” he said.
He told manager Scott Servais the same thing on the first day of workouts.
“It’s one of first things he said to me today, ‘what happened to me last year defensively with the sloppy errors is not happening again,'” Servais said. “He takes it very personal.”
But that wasn’t all Seager addressed in the offseason. A constant tinkerer of his swing, he spent hours working out and hitting with brothers, Justin and Corey, in North Carolina.
“I live in Salisbury and they live in Charlotte about an hour away,” he said. “So when we would workout, there’s a gym in Harrisburg, which is kind of in the middle. And then I put up cage in one of our barns so we would hit there. They would drive up to me and we’d hit together.”
It led to plenty of conversations between the three siblings.
“Justin and Corey, they think about the game a lot more than they get credit for,” he said. “They are both really deep and concentrate on little things. When you get three of us together, there are a lot of ideas that are spit out. It may not look like there are ton of adjustments made, but there’s actually quite a bit going on.”
But why would Seager need to make adjustments to a swing that produced those kinds of results in to 2016? Well, it’s what he does.
“That’s been a continued emphasis,” he said. “There’s quite a few things in my swing. There’s been a lot of things I didn’t do and a lot of mechanical adjustments that I need to clean up. When I hit like Robinson Cano, then I will feel comfortable.”
The potential for still more as a hitter and Seager’s drive to get there is a reason why he was inked to a contract extension and has a favorite of every coaching staff he’s played for.
What’s next for him?
“When he’s going good, he’s not just pulling the ball out of the park,” Servais said. “He’s using the whole field and driving balls into left-center and being a tough out. I think his walk rate went up last year. That’s huge for him. Everybody knows he can hit, but just be a tough out consistently. He knows the league. He’s a smart player. He has a feel for what teams, pitchers and catchers are trying to do against him. That’s going to continue to grow. I don’t see that taking a step back at all.”