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Churchill: Adjustments Needed for Miller, Seager

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Kyle Seager's struggles have been a big part of the Mariners' offensive woes. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Kyle Seager’s struggles have been a big part of the Mariners’ offensive woes. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan Jason A. Churchill
Jason joined 1090 The Fan after 4 1/2 years at ESPN Insider, covering...
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The Seattle Mariners have not hit well in 2014. Since the opening series they have scored the fewest runs per game in all of Major League Baseball. There are a lot of reasons for it, but two of them are the struggles of Brad Miller and Kyle Seager, each of whom are significantly better than their current numbers suggest.

Miller enters play Friday batting .183/.221/.341 with strikeouts in 30.2 percent of his plate appearances. His line drive rate is under 17 percent after he a solid 21.6 percent mark last season. His out-of-zone swing percentage is more than seven percent from last season and his in-zone swing percentage is down to 61.6 after a 70.4 last season.

Furthermore, Miller’s contact rate on pitches out of the zone is just 55.4 percent, down from 71.8 in 2013, and the percentage of swinging strikes has skyrocketed from 8.6 percent to 13 percent. In layman’s terms, Miller is chasing pitches out of the zone with regularity and making less contact on those pitches than he did while posting solid first-year numbers last summer.

He’s been a bit unlucky, too, but his BABIP of .226 is more due to his lack of discipline than simple bad luck. That number will certainly normalize to some extent, but it’s not going to fix Miller. He’s going to have to do that.

Wednesday, Miller joined us on the show for a few minutes and I asked him if he’s notice a pattern in the way he’s being attached and he essentially said no. I think he’s wrong.

Here is Miller’s pitch plot for 2014 through the Houston series:

Miller14Zone e1398414327259 Churchill: Adjustments Needed for Miller, Seager

More than 54 percent of all the pitches Miller has seen have been away, with only 15.6 percent in the strike zone away, 37.4 percent outside the strike zone away. Only 41 percent of the pitches Miller have seen have been strikes. Clearly the scouting report on Miller is pound him away and only come in if the pitch is down, off the plate or both.

Miller was pounded away last year, too — 52 percent — but he chased less and when pitchers threw inside they caught the plate more often and Miller did some damage there.

Seager is being attacked the same way:

Seager14Zone e1398415225881 Churchill: Adjustments Needed for Miller, Seager

For Seager, it’s 54.7 percent away, only 16 percent of in the strike zone away, and 40 percent of the total pitches he’s seen are strikes. Seager hasn’t expanded his zone nearly as much as has Miller, but he’s making less contact when he swings at out-of-zone pitches than he did 2011-2013, and he’s taking strike one a lot, setting him up for breaking balls and more pitches out of the zone –again, mostly away.

Away is especially bad for Seager because his swing is all about pulling the baseball. Below is his career spray chart:

SeagerSpray e1398415979915 Churchill: Adjustments Needed for Miller, Seager

A very high percentage of Seagers line drives and long fly balls — doubles, home run, other well-struck balls that were caught — are to right and right-center field. You’ll notice that Seager will take a pitch on the outer edge of the plate and hit to center field or pull it to the right side. On top of the pull swing, Seager’s swing has a lot of natural loft in it, which means he’s going to hit fly balls. He’s not Giancarlo Stanton or Russell Branyan or Ken Griffey, Jr., so he’s not going to generate the kind of bat speed to push a high percentage of those fly balls out of the yard, so those turn into outs.

Through Wednesday, Seager’s fly ball rate is at 44 percent, which is about where he’s at for his career, so this is not new, and neither is the outer half attack by opposing pitchers. His line drive rate is way down to 10 percent, however, after posting a 20.8 last year and 21.9 in 2012. Seager wants, and really needs the ball to catch a decent portion of the plate or with his current swing and approach will not hit enough balls on the nose to improve upon his .259 average, nor his other rate stats. After a slow start, he may have a hard time reaching those levels.

Even his home runs Wednesday were pitches that caught a lot of the plate, including the walk-off shot in the bottom of the ninth, a 95 mph fastball middle-in. But that isn’t where Josh Fields and catcher Jason Castro wanted that pitch.

Here is where Castro set up:

CastroSetup e1398416646169 Churchill: Adjustments Needed for Miller, Seager

Here is where the pitch ended up before Seager squared it up — just find his glove:

SeagerHRInnerHalf e1398416721755 Churchill: Adjustments Needed for Miller, Seager

That isn’t unique, by the way. Most home runs and most hard hit balls catch a decent chunk of the strike zone. Usually the entire baseball crosses the plate. The problem for Seager is, he hasn’t shown he can do enough with the edge strikes, particularly away, to either do some damage there or change the pitcher’s scheme and make him test him inside more.

Both Miller and Seager have to make these adjustments. Far too many out-of-zone chases for Miller and not enough hits on the strikes on the outer half. For Seager, he’s taking strike one too often right now — sometimes a pitch that catches enough of the plate where he can be expected to hit it hard — and he probably needs to dial down the home run swing. We’ve seen Seager smoke balls on a line and some of those swings are a little bit more level. For the record, a level swings is for Tee-Ballers, big-league hitters need a little upper cut to generate backspin. But there is such a thing as too much of it.

It’s just April 25 and it’s been just 21 games, so it’s absolutely too early to worry that either Miller or Seager has been figured out and isn’t equipped to execute the fix. Seager has had better results the past few days, even before the big game Wednesday, so perhaps he’s on his way. Miller has struck out in five of his past 10 plate appearances and has just one hit in his past 18 trips to the batter’s box, so he’s yet to show signs.

When is it time to worry? I’d start wondering in June if the two players haven’t turned it around and still are scuffling to the extent they have thus far. That doesn’t mean their overall season numbers have to look acceptable by then, but the club will want to have seen some lengthy stretches of consistent production — more in terms of weeks, rather than days.

Spray Charts, Pitch Plots courtesy BrooksBaseball.net

- Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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