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Corey Seager Is Powering Up

The Dodgers shortstop receded from the spotlight after his dynamic debut. But in 2020, he’s homered his way back among the elite at his position—and has L.A. on the brink of a title.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Five All-Star shortstops will become free agents after the 2021 season, and for a time, Corey Seager looked like the worst of the bunch. Carlos Correa is the youngest, and a former no. 1 pick. Francisco Lindor is a Gold Glove winner with 30-homer power. Javy Báez finished second in the 2018 NL MVP vote. And Trevor Story beat them all in WAR in 2019.

Seager, meanwhile, had receded from the spotlight since his dynamic debut. As the sport’s consensus no. 1 prospect before the 2016 season, Seager was the best hitter on a division winner, finished third in the running for NL MVP, and won a unanimous Rookie of the Year vote. Yet after essentially repeating his rookie campaign in 2017, he missed almost all of 2018 due to injuries, then struggled relative to expectations last year, with a batting line only 13 percent better than average.

He was still a good player, as is any everyday shortstop with a decent bat. But compared to his positional brethren, it seemed like Seager had taken a slight step back—and next to his Dodger teammates, like MVP Cody Bellinger and breakout slugger Max Muncy, that perception intensified. Seager began the 2019 playoffs hitting seventh in the Dodgers’ lineup.

Fast-forward a year and Seager is up to second in the L.A. order, as the most productive hitter for the team that led the majors in regular-season runs and now sits three wins away from a World Series title. Seager enjoyed a career year at the plate, with a batting line 51 percent better than average, and he’s hit even better in the postseason, to the tune of a .302/.387/.774 slash line with seven home runs in 14 games. He’s one home run away from the MLB playoff record. (And yes, Seager has had an extra round to hit more home runs—but because the Dodgers swept their first two series, he’s still batted fewer times than Barry Bonds did when initially setting the record back in 2002.)

Most Home Runs in a Single Postseason

Player Year Plate Appearances Home Runs
Player Year Plate Appearances Home Runs
Carlos Beltrán 2004 56 8
Nelson Cruz 2011 70 8
Barry Bonds 2002 74 8
Corey Seager 2020 62 7
Jayson Werth 2009 62 7
Daniel Murphy 2015 64 7
Randy Arozarena 2020 69 7
Troy Glaus 2002 69 7
Melvin Upton Jr. 2008 72 7
José Altuve 2017 80 7

While fellow 2020 playoff star Arozarena enjoys heaps of attention, along with the man who hits ahead of Seager in the lineup, Mookie Betts, the Dodgers shortstop isn’t just back to his rookie form—he’s crushing the ball better than ever before.

The explanation for Seager’s rise in 2020 is simple, according to the man himself: After undergoing surgery on his elbow and hip in the same year, he’s finally healthy again. “Last year especially, I just wasn’t physically as strong as I’d have liked to have been,” Seager told The Athletic’s Pedro Moura in September. “Your body kind of changes. You get tired, things start changing positions on you. Just being strong again and being healthy again has definitely helped that.”

That lack of physical strength manifested in Seager’s stats last year—both surface and peripheral. For instance, Seager’s average exit velocity in 2019, 88.8 miles per hour, ranked just 151st among qualified hitters, tied with the uninspiring likes of Freddy Galvis, Jayson Heyward, and retirement-year Curtis Granderson. In 2020, Seager’s average exit velocity is up to 93.2 miles per hour—good for a tie for eighth in the majors, within half a point of Mike Trout.

That increase of 4.4 miles per hour is the third-largest in the majors since last season, among players with at least 60 batted balls in each season. This chart shows every player with a jump of at least 2.5 mph—note the presence of Trout and NL MVP contenders Fernando Tatis Jr. and Freddie Freeman.

Biggest Average Exit Velocity Boosts, 2019 to 2020

Player 2019 Average 2020 Average Change
Player 2019 Average 2020 Average Change
Fernando Tatis Jr. 90.3 95.9 +5.6
Justin Upton 87.2 91.7 +4.5
Corey Seager 88.8 93.2 +4.4
Kevin Plawecki 85.5 89.0 +3.5
Gregory Polanco 89.4 92.9 +3.5
Travis d'Arnaud 90.0 93.4 +3.4
Colin Moran 88.2 91.5 +3.3
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 89.4 92.5 +3.1
Jesse Winker 89.1 92.1 +3.0
Miguel Cabrera 90.3 93.2 +2.9
Jedd Gyorko 85.8 88.6 +2.8
Mike Trout 90.9 93.7 +2.8
David Bote 89.7 92.4 +2.7
Freddie Freeman 89.8 92.4 +2.6
Brandon Belt 87.2 89.7 +2.5

Seager has never lacked for power per se; even in his down 2019 season, he led the National League in doubles. But there’s obvious value in pushing doubles over the wall, and for the first time this season, thanks to his enhanced bat speed, Seager’s home runs outpaced his doubles total.

That boost also helped Seager compared to the other star shortstops in the class of 2021. Before this season, Seager had posted a career .197 isolated power figure—slugging percentage minus batting average—and averaged 20 home runs per 500 at-bats. Both marks were the worst among the shortstop quintet. This year, however, Seager had the best marks in each category among the group, and placed second only to Tatis among all shortstops in both isolated power and home runs.

Shortstop Power for the Free Agent Class of 2021

Player Pre-2020 HR/500 2020 HR/500 Pre-2020 ISO 2020 ISO
Player Pre-2020 HR/500 2020 HR/500 Pre-2020 ISO 2020 ISO
Corey Seager 20 35 .197 .278
Trevor Story 30 23 .261 .230
Javier Báez 24 18 .214 .158
Francisco Lindor 22 17 .206 .157
Carlos Correa 25 12 .212 .119

On a more granular level, Seager displayed his rediscovered comfort at the plate by swinging early and often. He had the league’s sixth-highest swing rate on 0-0 counts, as well as the highest swing rate on pitches inside the strike zone—and for good reason, as all 15 of his home runs came on pitches inside the zone, mostly waist high with room to extend his arms and drive. (For reference, according to Statcast data, 92 percent of all regular-season home runs came on pitches inside the strike zone.)

Compare that image to this one, showing the location of Seager’s home run pitches in the postseason, and it’s quite clear he has a type. Other than the above-the-zone fastball he yanked 415 feet off Atlanta’s Tyler Matzek, all of Seager’s playoff homers have also come on waist-high pitches with room to extend his arms. Maybe pitchers should stop throwing Seager the ball there.

Seager is swinging even more frequently in early counts in the playoffs: The league average is a 31 percent swing rate on 0-0 counts, while Seager’s up at 55 percent. Only one of those swings has translated into a home run—this rocket that clinched Game 5 of the NLCS for the Dodgers—but it’s seemingly the thought that counts: Seager knows his strengths, and he knows he’s on a tear, so why wouldn’t he swing at any pitch that looks hittable?

Yet, somewhat counterintuitively, that aggression hasn’t stopped Seager from joining the rest of the Dodgers lineup in straining opposing pitch counts. Seager’s already walked three times in two World Series games, and his 13 percent playoff walk rate is nearly double his 7 percent regular-season mark. With Seager and Betts at the top of the order, the Dodgers present a formidable pair, in both power and on-base ability, at the start of every game.

Seager’s bounceback season and postseason aren’t just rejoinders to his depressed 2019 production, but a muted personal playoff history as well. Past playoff performance is not predictive of future playoff performance, but Seager hadn’t exactly covered himself in glory in past postseasons either. Through 2019, he was a career .203/.275/.331 hitter in 31 playoff games, with a strikeout rate nearly double his regular-season rate. Even better pitching in the playoffs can’t explain a drop in production of that magnitude.

Those concerns are absent in 2020, as Seager could well set the single-postseason home run mark—when home runs have never been so important—and lead the Dodgers to their first title in a generation. He’s also complicating the 2021 free-agent picture, or the Dodgers’ extension plans before that, because the club signed Mookie Betts for the long term and now may weigh the merits of extending Seager versus Bellinger versus any of the other assorted talented arbitration-eligible players leading the team. (Or, they’re the Dodgers, and they can surely extend anyone and everyone they want.)

But those longer-term questions are a subject for this or next offseason, when the whole shortstop landscape might change. (Will Cleveland trade Lindor before he reaches free agency? Will anyone sign an extension?) For now, Seager is slugging in the World Series, hitting a home run every other game and reaching base at an outrageous clip even when his scorchers aren’t flying over the Globe Life fences. As if the Dodgers didn’t already have enough star power, now one of their eclipsed stars is shining once again.