At 76-63, the Seattle Mariners entered play Friday just a half-game behind the Detroit Tigers for the second Wild Card spot. If they can squeeze in, this would be their first playoff appearance since 2001, when they won 114 games. Most of the attention has surrounded Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, and both players are having excellent years. Hernandez is the front runner for the AL Cy Young award, and after a somewhat slow start, Cano is playing up to the 10 year, $240 million contract he signed this offseason.
However, third baseman Kyle Seager is also having a noteworthy season. The 26 year-old has already tied his career high in home runs, and currently owns career-best marks in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. His 5.4 fWAR ranks sixth in the major leagues, and places him in a virtual tie with Cano.
Seager was a third-round pick by the Mariners out of UNC Chapel Hill back in 2009. He made short work of minor league pitching, and spent 53 games in the big leagues in 2011, hitting a respectable .258/.312/.379. The following season he established himself as a solid regular. His average and on-base percentage remained virtually unchanged, but he popped 20 home runs, boosting his slugging percentage to .423 and his wRC+ to 108. Combine the improved offensive numbers with strong third base defense, and the durability to appear in 155 games, and he produced 3.6 fWAR.
Seager had an almost identical season in 2012. Once again he was very durable, missing only two games. His batting average and slugging percentage were nearly the same, but he improved his walk rate to 9.8 percent, which lifted his on-base percentage to .338. Defensive metrics gave him slightly below average grades at third, and his fWAR was the same at 3.6.
This season Seager has taken off. After an early season slump that saw him hitting a woeful .156/.280/.219 in the Mariners first 20 games, he’s hit .296/.354/.517 over their last 116 contests. Overall he owns a .278/.345/.477 slash line. His defensive numbers are fantastic, and only Josh Donaldson of the Oakland Athletics has a higher UZR.
Though Safeco Field isn’t known as a hitters’ park, Seager has thrived at home. In home games he owns a .324/.390/.575 batting line for an eye-popping 175 wRC+. As a team, the Mariners have fared far better on the road, with a 40-27 record, compared to 36-36 on the road, but Seager has been the exception. It’s hard to say how much predictive value that has going forward, but it’s interesting to note, particularly considering that the M’s will likely travel if they should reach the one-game playoff.
It’s been an exciting season for the Mariner’s who struggled to a 10-14 record in April and again to an 11-14 record in July. Much of their starting rotation has missed significant time with injuries, and they’ve given large chunks of playing time to marginal outfielders such as Endy Chavez, James Jones, Abraham Almonte and Stefen Romero. Nevertheless, Seager, along with Hernandez and Cano have been the mainstays of this team. Right now they’re at coin-flip odds of making the playoffs, which is more than could be hoped for in April.