Healthy and Productive, the Seager Brothers Finally Cross Paths

It’s been a big week for the Seager family. For the first time in the careers of 26-year-old Corey Seager, who debuted in the majors with the Dodgers in 2015, and his 32-year-old brother Kyle, who debuted with the Mariners in 2011, the pair crossed paths in a regular season game. What’s more, they put themselves in the history books by becoming the first pair of brothers to homer in the same game for opposing teams since 2001, and just the ninth to do so in MLB history. Both brothers are off to strong starts this year after solid but unexceptional 2019 seasons.

Bad timing accounts for the fact that the brothers had never played a regular season game against each other until this week. Their respective teams played an interleague series in Los Angeles in April 2015, but Corey, the Dodgers’ first-round pick three years earlier, had just begun his second stint at Double-A Tulsa. When the Dodgers visited Safeco Field in August 2018, he was on the injured list, having not only undergone Tommy John surgery on May 4 of that year but also arthroscopic surgery on his left hip labrum on August 7.

MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick described the brothers’ first regular-season meeting as bittersweet, because the coronavirus pandemic prevented parents Jeff and Jody from making the trip from North Carolina to join them either at Dodger Stadium, where they played on Monday and Tuesday, or Safeco Field, where they played Wednesday and Thursday. The dueling homers occurred in the series opener on Monday, with Corey clubbing a towering 425-foot shot off Justin Dunn with two on in the third inning; dig the looks on the pair’s faces as little brother rounds the bases:

As you can see, an inning later, Kyle countered with a 405-foot solo homer off Ross Stripling, the second of three that the Dodgers righty would serve up in that frame as the Mariners overcome a 6-2 lead. Even so, the Dodgers came back to win the wild slugfest, 11-9.

Via Retrosheet, the Seager siblings became the first to homer as opponents in the same game since brothers Felipe and Cesar Crespo did so on June 7, 2001. Here’s the list, compiled by the late David Vincent, “The Sultan of Swat Stats:”

Brothers Who Homered as Opponents in Same Game
Player Team Player Team Date
Rick Ferrell Red Sox Wes Ferrell Indians 7/19/1933*
Al Cuccinello Giants Tony Cuccinello Dodgers 7/5/1935
Joe DiMaggio Yankees Dom DiMaggio Red Sox 6/30/1950
Clete Boyer Yankees Ken Boyer Cardinals 10/15/1964**
Graig Nettles Indians Jim Nettles Twins 6/11/1972
Graig Nettles Yankees Jim Nettles Tigers 9/14/1974
Hector Cruz Cubs Jose Cruz Astros 5/4/1981
Bret Boone Braves Aaron Boone Reds 9/1/1999
Bret Boone Padres Aaron Boone Reds 5/11/2000
Felipe Crespo Giants Cesar Crespo Padres 6/7/2001
Corey Seager Dodgers Kyle Seager Mariners 8/17/2020
SOURCE: Retrosheet
* = same inning. ** = Game 7 of World Series

That’s a fun list. Note the presence of Wes Ferrell, a pitcher who probably has a stronger case for the Hall of Fame than his brother, the lowest-ranked catcher in the JAWS rankings; at the very least, he hit more homers, with a 38-28 advantage in the two players’ careers and a 7-4 edge in that 1933 season. The DiMaggios, Boyers, and Cruzes above were each two-thirds of brotherly trios in the majors (Vince, Cloyd, and Tommy, take a bow); more’s the pity that Justin Seager never made it to the majors.

Both big-league Seagers have been particularly productive thus far, with Corey, who missed five games earlier this month due to lower back soreness and sat out Thursday’s series finale, hitting .296/.345/.580 (149 wRC+) with six homers in 87 PA, and Kyle, whose fifth home run of the season was the only blemish on Clayton Kershaw’s brilliant showing on Thursday, at .301/.391/.548 (156 wRC+) in 110 PA. Both performances are sizable steps up from last year, when Corey hit .272/.335/.483 with 19 homers, a 113 wRC+ — 20 points below what he hit from 2015-18 — and 3.3 WAR, and Kyle hit .239/.321/.468 (110 wRC+) with 2.9 WAR. The latter has actually spent three years in the doldrums, at least on the offensive side; after compiling a 119 wRC+ from 2011-16, he fell to 99 from ’17-19, though his glovework helped him average 2.7 WAR in that span. Thankfully, his lousy 2018 (83 wRC+, 1.5 WAR) has proven to be an anomaly.

The brothers are getting to a similar level of productivity by rather different routes. Both are among the majors’ most difficult to strike out, for example — Kyle’s 10.0% rate is the sixth-lowest among 163 qualifiers, while Corey’s 11.5% is 11th-lowest — but even then, we see contrasts:

The Swinging Seager Brothers
Split BB% K% O-Zone% Z-Contact% SwStr%
Kyle 2011-19 8.4% 17.5% 27.5% 89.1% 8.0%
Kyle 2020 11.8% 10.0% 24.5% 90.1% 5.6%
Corey 2015-19 9.2% 19.2% 30.3% 87.5% 11.6%
Corey 2020 5.7% 11.5% 35.3% 88.6% 13.4%

Both hitters have reduced their strikeout rates by about 40% relative to their career marks, but Kyle has done it by tightening his control of the strike zone, increasing his walk rate while making more consistent contact when he does swing within the zone. Corey, on the other hand, is expanding his zone and walking much less often, even while making more contact within the zone; meanwhile, his O-Contact% of 52.7% is 4.2 points below his career norm.

Even with that contrast, both players — and particularly Corey — are doing very well with two strikes:

Seagers’ Two-Strike Performances
Split AVG OBP SLG wRC+ K% SwStr%
Corey 2015-19 .187 .280 .323 66 42.2% 14.2%
Corey 2020 .306 .359 .528 142 25.6% 11.0%
Kyle 2011-19 .194 .260 .307 59 35.9% 13.8%
Kyle 2020 .229 .357 .257 88 26.2% 8.7%
MLB 2020 .170 .250 .282 47 43.0% 15.5%

Of course, we’re not talking about large samples here — 39 two-strike situations for Corey and 42 for Kyle — so we probably shouldn’t read too much into what’s above just yet, but given that strikeout rates stabilize around 60 PA, the pair’s lack of Ks is noteworthy.

Fewer strikeouts generally means more contact, and in Corey’s case, that contact has been so impressive that it suggests his results should be even better:

Corey Seager Batted Ball Profile, 2019-20
Year GB/FB GB% FB% Pull% EV LA Barrel  wOBA xwOBA
2019 0.99 39.0% 39.2% 37.2% 88.8 14.1 7.3% .382 .501
2020 1.08 39.4% 36.6% 43.7% 93.5 10.7 19.7% .362 .380
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Corey’s groundball rate is basically unchanged from last year, and he’s hitting fewer fly balls and more line drives; his average launch angle is actually lower. He’s pulling the ball more often, but opponents have noticed; infields are shifting against him more often as well. As a result, 70% of his plate appearances — virtually all of the ones that don’t result in one of the three true outcomes — are ending with a shift in place, compared to about 45% last year; he has just a .270 batting average and 69 wRC+ with shifts in place, compared to .305 and 94 last year. This, I believe, helps to account for why he’s falling so short of his Statcast expected batting average (.378), slugging percentage (.803), and wOBA, all of which rank second to the Nationals’ Juan Soto, who has just 43 batted ball events to Seager’s 79. The good news is that if he’s hitting the ball that hard that consistently, better results should follow.

By the way, this is a good place to tout the recent addition of Statcast data to our site, not only on the individual player pages and leaderboards, but also our Season Stat Grid, which is particularly useful in highlighting the players whose year-to-year performance has changed the most. For example, Corey has the largest change in barrel rate of any player with at least 300 PA last year and 60 PA this year:

Most Improved Barrel Rates, 2019-20
Player Team 2019 Barrel% 2020 Barrel% Dif
Corey Seager Dodgers 6.3% 19.7% 13.4%
Nick Castellanos Reds 10.1% 23.2% 13.1%
Jesse Winker Reds 4.3% 15.9% 11.6%
Colin Moran Pirates 6.5% 18.0% 11.5%
Brian Goodwin Angels 6.3% 16.0% 9.7%
Brandon Belt Giants 7.9% 17.1% 9.2%
J.T. Realmuto Philies 6.6% 15.7% 9.1%
Fernando Tatis Jr. Padres 12.8% 21.6% 8.8%
Luke Voit Yankees 13.2% 22.0% 8.8%
Tim Anderson White Sox 4.9% 13.5% 8.6%
Eric Hosmer Padres 6.7% 14.9% 8.2%
Niko Goodrum Tigers 5.9% 14.0% 8.1%
Robbie Grossman Athletics 2.1% 9.8% 7.7%
Randal Grichuk Blue Jays 8.5% 16.1% 7.6%
Brandon Lowe Rays 14.1% 21.5% 7.4%
Matt Chapman Athletics 10.9% 18.1% 7.2%
Rio Ruiz Orioles 2.5% 9.4% 6.9%
Teoscar Hernández Blue Jays 10.6% 17.5% 6.9%
Wil Myers Padres 10.4% 17.2% 6.8%
Gio Urshela Yankees 6.4% 12.5% 6.1%

Likewise, Seager’s 4.7-mph gain in average exit velocity ranks fifth (Willson Contreras is first with 6.3, from 88.5 mph to 94.8 mph), and his 17.2% gain in hard-hit rate is fourth (Tatis is first with 20.8%, from 44.1% to 64.9%).

As for Kyle, what stands out about his batted ball numbers is that he’s actually hitting more grounders relative to last year, and his average launch angle has fallen:

Kyle Seager Batted Ball Profile
Year GB/FB GB% FB% EV LA  wOBA xwOBA
2019 0.75 32.8% 43.8% 89.4 18.6 .332 .356
2020 1.19 44.0% 36.9% 89.7 11.6 .387 .397
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Kyle is actually getting better results despite the higher groundball rate, and his actual stats have drawn closer to his expected ones; last year’s .265 xAVG and .495 xSLG are 26 and 27 points off his final numbers, but this year’s .298 xAVG and .541 xSLG are just three and seven points off their respective marks.

It’s wonderful to see both Seagers healthy and productive again, and it should be interesting to see where this takes them, not only within the context of maintaining their performances but also their future addresses. Next season will be the final guaranteed year of Kyle’s seven-year, $100 million deal. He has a $15 million option for 2022, which can increase by $5 million to $20 million based on award and plate appearances; the exact parameters are unknown, but the kicker is that a trade turns that from a club option to a player option. So while his name is likely to come up in advance of this year’s August 31 deadline, dealing him is a more complicated matter.

As for Corey, he slipped off the lower reaches of our annual Trade Value series because he can be a free agent after next season. He’ll be heading into his age-28 season and should command a pretty penny if he can stay healthy between now and then, particularly with Scott Boras representing him. While there’s no indication that the Dodgers don’t want to keep him, they’ll likely have to make some choices when it comes to which of their core youngsters they hold onto, with possible extensions for Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler the most notable on the to-do list, and the free agencies of Kershaw and Justin Turner figuring prominently as well. That said, the signing of Mookie Betts probably takes the Dodgers out of the running for Francisco Lindor, and Gavin Lux’s throwing problems at second base make a return to shortstop less likely, so the matter of replacing Corey isn’t a trivial one. But so long as he remains an essential part of one of the league’s most potent offenses, the rest is sure to fall into place.

We hoped you liked reading Healthy and Productive, the Seager Brothers Finally Cross Paths by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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mikejunt
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mikejunt

Corey’s decline in both K and BB rates is in fact a trend across a number of Dodger hitters, with Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and even Mookie Betts showing substantial declines in BB% (and stable or decreased K rates, depending on the player) vs their career averages. The Dodgers as a club have declined from nearly 11% BB to about 8.5% despite the only major roster change being the addition of Betts. The team has seen an overall drop in K% as well, but it’s not clear that reducing both K% and BB% by 2-3% is a good tradeoff, since K% tends to be a lot higher than BB% to start with.

It’s not clear if this is an organizational approach shift, a statistical anomaly, or a reflection of the advantages pitchers seemed to have over hitters for the first couple weeks of the season (and some very slow starts for a number of Dodger hitters, notably left-handers Bellinger, Muncy and Pederson who almost nothing for the first couple weeks of the season), but Corey seems to be the only player making it work particularly well for him. Seager’s always been by far the most aggressive hitter in the Dodger lineup, often the only player on the team who swings at the first pitch more than half the time.