PHOENIX — When the Texas Rangers really needed a hit in World Series Game 1, Corey Seager pounced on a first-pitch fastball and sent it screaming into the seats. When they really needed a hit — their first — in World Series Game 5, Seager laid off a changeup, battled through two curveballs and squibbed a third curveball off the end of the bat, through the infield’s open left side.
The least emphatic of Seager’s 21 postseason hits nonetheless punctured Arizona Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen’s dominant no-hit bid in the seventh inning Wednesday. Soon enough, Seager was touching home plate with the game’s first run. And soon after that, the Rangers were claiming the first World Series in franchise history, with Seager becoming the fourth player and second hitter to earn World Series MVP honors twice.
It concluded a game, a series, a postseason and a year in which Seager ascended to a new level in the batter’s box. Not just a force, he is a contemporary terror, the rare hitter in the 2020s who seems to be ahead of the curve — and the fastball and the slider and the changeup.
“I think the word attack is a good word to describe him,” said Mitch Garver, the Rangers’ designated hitter who drove in that key first run in Wednesday’s 5-0 victory. “Because it’s from pitch one — he’s trying to get you. And he can get you in many ways.”
Seager batted .318 with six homers in the playoffs, following a regular season in which he posted a .327/.390/.623 line with 33 homers in only 119 games. By park-adjusted wRC+, he was the third-best hitter in baseball, behind likely MVPs Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuña Jr.
Cut from the Cal Ripken Jr. cloth of shortstop, Seager has been a feared hitter since he arrived in the big leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. Yet the 2023 version of Seager that will be immortalized in World Series lore was a cut above even his past exploits. People around the game were taking note of his progression, and their takeaways help illustrate the impossibility of strategizing to get Seager out.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who joked that he sent a limo to take Seager away from the NL West rival Dodgers when the shortstop signed his $325 million deal with Texas, views the 29-year-old’s peak as a product of selectivity.
“He always had the ability to impact a baseball game. He had light-tower power. He could hit for average. He was very dynamic when he was standing up there three, four years ago,” Lovullo said earlier in the World Series. “But what I see right now is somebody that’s gotten even better by being extremely selective.”
Meanwhile, Rangers teammate Max Scherzer — who has both faced Seager and twice joined up with his club in trade deadline moves — traced his excellence to aggression.
“Oh, man, he’s tough to face,” Scherzer said while dripping with beer in the postgame celebration. “He’s so aggressive, but he can hit every pitch. He’s so dangerous, you’ve really got to pitch on pins and needles when you’re going at him.”
However divergent those assessments might seem, they’re both right. Per Statcast, Seager swung at pitches in the strike zone more often than any other MLB hitter in 2023 — a career-high 80.3% of them, where 65.5% is the league average — while maintaining roughly an average chase rate. By run value, Seager did more damage against pitches in the heart of the zone than any other batter in baseball. That’s at least in part because he passes up so few opportunities to hit what pitchers around the league would acknowledge are inevitable mistakes, or at least calculated risks. Only 7.5% of pitches Seager saw this year turned into called strikes, the smallest proportion in MLB.
Tampa Bay Rays closer Pete Fairbanks said back in August that Seager is the hitter most adept at countering the ever-improving “stuff” that major-league pitchers bring to bear.
“I think Seager probably does the best job of being super-aggressive to stuff he knows he can hit within the zone and still also being a great decision-maker,” Fairbanks said. “I think he’s probably the best blend of aggressive to stuff that he can hit and not swinging at stuff that he shouldn’t.”
Aggression, on a hitter’s part, is often a trait pitchers can exploit with edge pitches or with movement that makes a pitch appear to be a strike before it dives or darts out of the zone. It’s one of the main ways the Diamondbacks clawed back against a bombastic Philadelphia Phillies lineup in the NLCS. But Seager refuses to fall into that trap, still mostly laying off bad pitches or fouling off pitches that are likely to turn into outs.
“Even his bad swings — like when he takes a bad swing, I feel like, he doesn’t put the ball in play. He’ll foul it off, which is very concerning,” Garver said, speaking from his experience behind the plate. “Like, if I was catching against him, it would be very concerning.”
That constant readiness to unleash a home run swing means Seager’s strikes don’t go to waste; his strikeout rate is consistently better (read: lower) than average. Instead, Seager’s relative misfires seem to contribute to his next hack, something pitchers see as one of his most daunting qualities.
“He was probably far and away the best at making the adjustments to cover stuff that he might have missed earlier,” Fairbanks said, “and then still being able to not really deviate from this plan.”
That adaptability takes real work, and it starts hours upon hours before games. Donnie Ecker, the Rangers bench coach and offensive coordinator, said Seager has a meticulous process for keeping his body and his swing in tune on a biomechanical level. Before a night game, he is likely starting at noon, combing through video and data from the previous day. He’ll hit at 3 o’clock, record all his swings, then watch those back, analyze them and make adjustments. Sometimes, he’ll do it all over again before the game actually starts.
“He has a deep belief system that if he gets his body to move as well as it can, that he can solve all the problems that are presented,” Ecker said. “You’re trying to solve for north, south, east, west, and he can solve for all four.”
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His fellow Rangers simply marvel at Seager’s all-around greatness at the plate.
“I don’t know what else to say about the man,” Bruce Bochy, his manager, said. “He’s just incredible.”
Rookie Evan Carter, who had a spectacular postseason himself, with a .311 batting average and a record nine doubles, said out loud what many pitchers are probably left muttering.
“I’m under the impression that even if they hit their spot, he can still crush it,” Carter said. “I mean, he’s unbelievable. He’s one of the best hitters out there. Period.”
Christine Lake is a sports fanatic who lives and breathes athletics. With an extensive background in sports journalism, he covers everything from major league championships to grassroots sports events. When she’s not on the field or at the stadium, you’ll find Christine coaching youth sports teams.