I get what the offseason is about- add guys that make the team better and get rid of the guys that do not. For the Dodgers, that mantra is magnified- trade Yasiel Puig (maybe) and sign Bryce Harper. But, through the moves and the dreams, the Dodgers biggest addition heading into the 2019 season is already on the roster. Corey Seager is on his way back.
On April 30th, just a month into the 2018 season, the Dodgers announced the worst possible news: Corey Seager will have Tommy John surgery. Many people, myself included, got that knot in their stomach, the one where you know something really really bad just happened and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You know what I’m talking about?
That feeling seemed to linger around the Dodgers for a while. The quality of at-bats diminish, the top of the order was indefinitely weaker and, without Max Muncy, the Dodgers would have been in a world of trouble as their superstar bat went down for the whole year.
The feeling did not necessarily go away, it evolved.
When the Dodgers proved they were capable of picking up the offensive slack left by Seager’s absence, the fear transitioned. It went from a feeling of doom for the Dodgers to a feeling of doom for Seager himself. Would he come back the same? Would his swing be different? We really did not know. But, what we do know is the history of the surgery and the statistics that come with it.
Let’s rewind a little bit. We’re going to jump all the way back to 2016 (big jump, I know). Corey Seager was cemented into the starting shortstop role and the Dodgers were heavily dependant on the 22-year old star. Seager projected to not only win the Rookie of the Year award but until Kris Bryant had an explosion of year, he made a strong case for MVP as well. Seager proved he was the real deal.
In 687 rookie year plate appearances, Seager hit .308 with 26 home runs and 72 RBIs. He had a 134 OPS+ and a 6.5 UZR. He was amazing.
Now, as far as rookie seasons go they don’t necessarily provide concrete evidence that a player is unreal. Most players regress after year one, they get figured out. But, as the league tried to adjust to Corey Seager, their efforts were all for none.
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In year two, Seager hit .295 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs and owned a 126 OPS+ and a 9.0 UZR. Sure, there was some sophomore season regression but not nearly enough to be concerned.
Then, when 2018 came along, Seager did not have enough time to get things going before going down with the fatal elbow injury that did him in for the year. Seager was done and already looking forward to 2019. But, as I said earlier, there are a lot of quality statistics supporting a very strong return for the soon to be 25-year old.
Position players do not find themselves going in for Tommy John surgery. It is a pitcher’s operation. But, it does happen every once in a while and when it does, players come back from it with some solid results.
Take Shin-Soo Choo as an example. Choo debuted in 2005 and got hardly any playing time that year or the year after before needing Tommy John surgery in September of 2007. In 2008, Choo returned from surgery and played 94 games which would be the gateway to the rest of his career. Post-operation, Choo has a 125 OPS+ and a 162 game average of 22 homers and 78 RBI’s, he’s been no joke. Those numbers, by the way, are over the ten seasons that Choo has played after having Tommy John surgery. Not only has the operation held up but, Choo is killing it.
There has been a trend with results very much like Choo’s. Zack Cozart, the third baseman/shortstop for the Angels had his surgery back in 2011, just 11 games into his big league career. Since then, Cozart has slashed .251/.304/.406 with 85 homers and a 2017 trip to the All-Star game as a member of the Reds.
There are no guarantees in baseball. But, Tommy John Surgery has a rather sturdy track record, especially in position players. Seager’s teammate, Ross Stripling, a Tommy John patient himself, echoed the sentiment in an interview with me that coming back from the surgery and swinging a bat is a fairly natural and painless transition.
“At first, swinging is like throwing hard, where you’re a little scared and timid to go full strength,” Stripling said. “But, once you get those first few swings out of the way, muscle memory takes over and you’ll pick it up right where you left off.”
This should be the case with Seager. We can look at his pre-surgery numbers and fairly confidently deduce that those were his standards. Take into account the success rate of the operation and the Dodgers get a superstar back at the top of the order for the price of a rookie.
With Seager in the lineup, the Dodgers are a staggering 200-113 in games Seager has started. In 2019, they are getting him back for free. Seager could easily be the biggest addition to the Dodgers lineup even if they continue to sign players. On a return from a big surgery, the team should be confident in Seager’s resurgence to the starting nine.