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Seager's slam: Sign of things to come?

@kengurnick
May 13, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Corey Seager slugged a grand slam and drove in five runs on Sunday. No, really. It was easy to miss. The timing of his most productive game since 2017 was poor, as he was completely overshadowed by Hyun-Jin Ryu’s near no-hitter. But it really happened, Seager finally

LOS ANGELES -- Corey Seager slugged a grand slam and drove in five runs on Sunday. No, really.

It was easy to miss. The timing of his most productive game since 2017 was poor, as he was completely overshadowed by Hyun-Jin Ryu’s near no-hitter.

But it really happened, Seager finally looking a little more like the two-time All-Star/Silver Slugger Award winner he was before right elbow and left hip operations left him rusty enough to bring a 6-for-48 tailspin into Sunday’s game.

One can only assume Seager is healthy. Playing every day obviously is no indication of his physical condition, because he was playing every day through the pain of two serious injuries.

What we know is that through 2017, he had a career .305/.374/.502 slash line, and from 2016-17 -- based on WAR, per FanGraphs -- was baseball’s fifth most valuable player. But during the first six weeks of this season, he’s hitting .227/.323/.362. He was better than that when he was hurt.

“I’ve been grinding pretty good,” said Seager. “One swing feels good and I hope it turns things around. It’s been a challenge so far, so hopefully it gets better.”

Here’s what Statcast tells us, with analysis provided by MLB.com’s Mike Petriello:

He's striking out more:

2016-18 -- 19.9 percent of his plate appearances

2019 -- 22.2 percent

He’s walking more, too:

2016-18 -- 9.3 percent

2019 -- 12.2 percent

He’s hitting more balls in the air:

2016-18 -- 51.7 percent of batted balls are flies and liners

2019 -- 58.9 percent of batted balls are flies and liners

That’s usually a good thing for a power hitter, except…

The balls in the air are not being hit as hard:

2016-18 -- 94.8 mph exit velocity on flies+liners

2019 -- 91.9 mph exit velocity on flies+liners

So he’s getting less production in the air:

2016-18 -- .523 BA / .978 SLG on flies+liners

2019 -- .328 BA / .623 SLG on flies+liners

Since he hit .255 on grounders in 2016-18 and is hitting .333 on grounders this year, Seager is missing the production on his most valuable swings, the ones in the air that are supposed to be hard-hit.

Petriello said it’s hard to draw any conclusion from Seager’s grand slam, because the Kyle Barraclough fastball it came off was thigh-high right down the middle. Petriello noted, however, that Seager’s hard-hit rate (percent of balls hit with a 95-mph-or-more exit velocity) was only 18 percent over the past week. Prior to last Sunday, it was 39 percent.

Coming off Tommy John surgery is enough of a mountain for any player to climb. Add in the additional recovery of left hip labrum surgery, and anybody that’s had either will tell you it’s sort of amazing Seager is playing at all after going through both.

During Spring Training, former Dodgers Gold Glove Award winning shortstop Cesar Izturis visited Camelback Ranch-Glendale. Nobody’s comparing Izturis as a hitter to Seager, but Izturis said after he underwent Tommy John surgery, his swing was never really the same.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts dropped Seager in the batting order in the past week, in part to take some pressure off of Seager, and to get hotter hitters more at-bats.

“He’s going hard and he sees other guys on the club picking him up,” said Roberts. “Corey’s a tireless worker. He’s very talented and he doesn’t lack for confidence.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.