With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time where we go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this past season.
Today, we look at shortstop Corey Seager.
Corey Seager was really good in 2022. He was 14th among position players in the American League in fWAR, at 4.5. He was 22nd in bWAR, at 4.0. He put up a 119 OPS+ while playing shortstop, he stayed healthy — coming 24 plate appearances short of matching his career high. He was named to the American League All Star team. Overall, he had a solid beginning to what is expected to be a decade-long run with the Rangers.
That being said, there is an overall vibe of his season being a little bit of a letdown. He slashed .245/.317/.455, which is less than his career .287/.357/.494 slash line, and while some of that is the nature of offense being somewhat down in 2022, his 119 OPS+ is below his career 128 OPS+. He hit well, but wasn’t quite the offensive force that would have been hoped for.
Somewhat weirdly, he mashed at the Shed, which is neutral or somewhat pitcher-friendly, depending on what you look at. He slashed .273/.351/.550 at home, compared to .217/.282/.363 on the road. He also got off to a somewhat slow start to the season — he had a 710 OPS on July 3 before going on a red hot streak that lasted a little over a month.
So, here’s a little factoid about Corey Seager’s 2022 season: after the first week or so in August, his high-water mark in terms of OPS in 2022 was on August 14, when he had an 812 OPS after doubling twice. After August 14, he slashed .221/.278/.395, giving him a 673 OPS over 187 plate appearances.
Does anyone remember what newsworthy event occurred with the Rangers on August 15?
If you said “Chris Woodward was fired,” a gold star for you. Seager is, of course, very close to Woodward, and Woodward being the Rangers’ manager was something that was seen as giving the Rangers a leg up in vying to sign Seager when he hit free agency last offseason (though the giant pile of money the Rangers offered was probably a bigger factor, I think).
Did Chris Woodward getting fired cause Corey Seager to go into a slump for the rest of the 2022 season? Probably not — he had a 771 OPS in August after Woodward was fired, and it was an awful 15 game stretch in the first part of September where he slashed .159/.221/.254 that really drags the post-Woodward firing numbers down.
That being said, players are only human, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the manager Seager was tight with getting canned didn’t impact him on some level.
Getting back to Seager’s overall performance in 2022...he put up a .331 wOBA,* the lowest wOBA he has had in his career over a full season, and well below his career .361 wOBA.
* As a reminder, wOBA is a raw stat, not park-, league-, or otherwise adjusted.
However, Seager’s xwOBA — what he would be expected to put up, based on his walks, Ks and batted ball data — was .372. That’s 41 points below what he actually put up, and just 5 points below his career average. Among all qualified hitters in 2022, Seager’s xwOBA was 9th.
Here’s the top 10, to give you a flavor for the rarified air he was in:
1 — Aaron Judge
2 — Yordan Alvarez
3 — Freddie Freeman
4— Juan Soto
5 — Shohei Ohtani
6 — Austin Riley
7 — Kyle Schwarber
8 — Jose Abreu
9 — Corey Seager
10 — Paul Goldschmidt
I mean, that’s pretty good company, right?
When you look at the individual components, that’s what one would expect, as well. Seager’s 15.5% strikeout rate is lower than league average — he was in the 85th percentile in K rate in 2022. His walk rate is a little above average. He hits the ball hard (86th percentile in average exit velocity). His xwOBA, xBA and xSLG are all in the 96-97th percentile.
So what is dragging Seager down?
His batting average on balls in play. Seager’s BABIP in 2022 was .242 — 8th worst out of 130 qualified hitters. Some of it, I’m sure, comes down to bad luck. However, he’s also a lefty pull hitter who puts the ball in play a bunch (low K-rate, remember?), and so he was someone who is particularly hurt by the shift.
How badly hurt? Well, Mike Petriello, in a piece for MLB.com, identified Seager as the player who lost the most hits to the shift in 2022. Based on the Statcast data, Seager lost roughly 20 hits due to the shift. Sports Info Solutions, in mid-September, 2022, had Seager as losing 25 hits as of that point in 2022, also the most in MLB.
That’s huge! It goes a long way towards explaining why, out of 132 players who had at least 500 plate appearances in 2022, only two had a bigger negative spread between their wOBA and xwOBA.*
* In case you are curious, those two are Carlos Santana and Ryan Mountcastle. The others at least 30 points worse in terms of actual wOBA were Ronald Acuna Jr., Jesse Winker, Yordan Alvarez and Marcell Ozuna.
The good news — for us as Rangers fans, for Seager, and for those of us who don’t want to read angry rants about how Seager just needs to learn to slap the ball the other way — is that the shift is being banned for the 2023 season.
And since the shift is being banned, one can reasonably expect for Corey Seager to have a significant number of additional hits in 2023, which will result in better overall numbers.
How much better? Per Fangraphs, Manny Machado had roughly the same amount of defensive value as Seager in 2022, roughly the same amount of baserunning value, and a .382 wOBA. Machado was second to Aaron Judge in fWAR among position players in 2022, at 7.4 fWAR.
To be clear, I’m not predicting a 7+ win season for Seager in 2023. I’m not telling you to rush out and bet heavy on Seager winning the MVP at Caesar’s. Seager is, as a lefty hitter who isn’t fast, probably going to be expected to underperform his xwOBA a little just inherently.
But don’t be surprised if, with the shift gone, Corey Seager has a huge season in 2023 — the type of season that makes a $35 million salary for the year look like a bargain.