From the day he was drafted, scouts ranted and raved about the future outlook of Corey Seager but many doubted his ability to stick at shortstop long-term. From his size to his speed, his ability to handle a premium defensive position at a major league level was often questioned by scouts and executives.
Many surmised that he would need to make the move to third base, where his strong reaction time and quality instincts would play up. While that still may be the case for his long term career, as his first full season at short comes to a close, Seager has proven he can handle the position by the eye test and advanced defensive metrics.
Baseball has been blessed with a crop of talented shortstops that surpasses anything we’ve seen. From Francisco Lindor, to Brandon Crawford to Addison Russell, the amount of shortstops playing quality defense with a strong dose of offensive value has rarely been this high.
To compare Seager to this crop, we’ll dive into UZR, or Ultimate Zone Rating. UZR is one of the most widely used, publically available, “advanced” defensive statistics. UZR attempts to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up with their glove. Fangraphs has an excellent explanation here, and all information has been pulled from their wonderful site.
Since UZR attempts to quantify how many runs a player has saved or given up with their glove, it is usually represented in a numerical form. Generally, 0 is considered “average,” +5 is considered “above average,” +10 is considered “great” and +15 is considered “Gold Glove Caliber” with the negative spectrum going down in the same intervals (i.e -5, -10, et al). The current top 5 in UZR for short stops looks like this (minimum 1000 innings):
- Franisco Lindor – 17.4
- Brandon Crawford – 16.7
- Addison Russell – 14.2
- Jose Iglesias – 10.7
- Corey Seager – 10.5
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t supposed to stick at short. However, it isn’t just UZR where he is excelling. One factor that contributes to UZR is Range Runs (RngR), which shows whether or not a player gets to more balls than average. Players with higher range runs get to more balls than average. The top 5 for range runs doesn’t look much different than the top 5 for UZR, but the drop from the top 4 to #5 is pretty considerable.
- Franisco Lindor – 15.1
- Brandon Crawford – 13.4
- Addison Russell – 12.8
- Corey Seager – 11.4
- Freddy Galvis – 5.6
Now, Seager has made his share of errors as he’s #3 at the position with 16, split evenly with 8 throwing errors and 8 fielding errors. Running a .970 fielding percentage through 1254 innings is quite an impressive feat for a supposed third baseman, but it would put him near the bottom of the pack in regards to qualified shortstops. But fielding percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. It tends to judge every play as an equal, not taking into account the difficulty of the play. That’s where inside edge fielding comes into play.
Inside edge is a fielding metric that judges how often a player has made a play of a particular difficulty. Though their calculation methods are not made public, it essentially looks at how often players at that position make similar plays and then groups them into the following 6 categories:
- Impossible (0%)
- Remote (1-10%)
- Unlikely (10-40%)
- About Even (40-60%)
- Likely (60-90%)
- Almost Certain / Certain (90-100%)
Seager has done just about league average in executing the routine plays, making 96.4% of the plays that would be considered “Almost Certain or Certain.” Seager does rank near the bottom of the spectrum on the other 5 categories, so there is room for improvement there.
However, the big differentiator for Seager will always come back to his offense, as he leads the league among shortstops in many offensive categories including batting average, on-base percentage, hits, doubles, wRC+ and Wins Above Replacement, while leading the National League in home runs and runs, just to name a few. Seager is one of only 5 rookies since 1915 to have 40 doubles and 25 home-runs, putting him among the likes of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols. That’s not bad company to be in.
While his offensive prowess has rarely been doubted, when coupled with his surprising defense at a premium position, Seager has done his best to justify his impending Rookie of the Year award and his mentioning in MVP conversations. His long term outlook may reside at third base, but he has proven that he can handle the rigors of short stop at an above-average clip, at least for the time being, and has done his best to quiet his doubters.
As he continues to break nearly every franchise record for rookies on his way to the Dodgers first rookie of the year award winner since Todd Hollandsworth capped their streak of 5 in a row in 1996, it will be fun to see Corey Seager’s star shine on a national scale come playoff time and for many years to come.