For the Toronto Blue Jays, taking a shot on Michael Saunders in 2017 may not be as big a gamble as his 2nd half of 2016 would suggest
We all spent the summer cheering on Michael Saunders. After being taken out by a sprinkler head the previous spring, we’d hoped for a solid 2016 from the Canadian boy. And, for the first half of the season, he was certainly solid. He was so solid that many a fan took to Twitter, etc and voted him in to the All Star Game. It was a great rebound season for the then 29 yr old.
Then, something happened and he saw his performance all but disappear. It was the worst scenario for him heading into his winter as a free agent. He was healthy enough to play, but put up terrible numbers. Not that you wish injury on anyone, but at least, if he were injured, he would have some kind of explanation for his downturn. Instead, he suffered through one of the worst endings since M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs”. The poor second half has led to a rather stagnant market for Saunders. While other outfielders are being snagged off the shelf, he sits and waits.
Thanks to Jon Heyman, we see that he might not be waiting much longer. Apparently, the Blue Jays are in contact with him. The Orioles also show interest, but you have to think that Toronto is higher on his list. Regardless, the Fanrag Sports scribe links the two Canadian entities to each other. And, while perhaps a couple of months ago, we would have preferred this not be the case, this offseason is playing out in a manner that makes Saunders less of a gamble for the Blue Jays.
So, let’s look at this logically. There is no doubt that a .178 average in the second half looks terrible. Heck, everything looks worse. His OBP went down almost .100. Looking at the numbers, you would think that he was hurt, or blinded. But, is that a fair gauge for Saunders? Likely not. I mean, look at his BABIP. After reaching well above average, things evened out…and then bottomed out for him. While an extremely high BABIP cannot be sustained, neither can one so low. Simply, he was a victim of some bad luck in the second half of 2016.
That might be over simplifying it, for some. So, let’s look at something else that could point to an anomalous second half. So, for Saunders, his 2016 second half was bad, even for him. He’s never been a guy who has hit .300 and swatted 50 HR. Instead, his career .235 mark and 17 HR avg are more in line with what we can expect from him. He beat both of those marks last season, mind you. But, it’s that second half that keeps coming up to take away from his successful season.
Consider this, though: when we look at Baseball Reference’s handy Play Index tool, we can pull up some interesting tidbits. For example, if you look back at some of his streaks over the last few seasons, you get some interesting info. If you look for streaks where he struck out more than 0 times and went hitless, you get better results than you might think. I wanted to see just how many streaks- and how long they lasted- of futility Saunders had. We can all agree that striking out one or more times and going hitless counts as futility.
Here’s what we find:
As it turns out, Saunders hasn’t had too many long streaks of futility. He has had 12 streaks over his whole career where he had 4 or more games of futility. And, if we’re being fair, streaks of fewer than 4 games could happen to anyone. We’ve seen Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have those kind of streaks. So, for our purposes here, I ignored them. Obviously, for Saunders, the perception of his 2016 second half might lead you to think he’s had many of them. But, of those 12 streaks for his career, only one (Sept 13-19) came in the second half of 2016. Two of them came in what would be called the first half of 2016.
Obviously, simply looking at streaks in and of themselves is not definitive. The performance around any streak matters just as much. But, the point stands that Michael Saunders didn’t have what we might call ‘prolonged periods of futility’. Yet, he is sitting on the open market as though he has.
Of course, there is more that goes into why he is still a free agent. We have to acknowledge that Saunders comes with a bit of a label of “injury prone”. Combine that with questionable performance heading into free agency, and you have a guy who could very well be had for lower than market value. And, for an outfielder that could provide you with 20+ HR from the left side of the plate- he hit .275 with a .927 OPS vs lefty pitching last year, the Blue Jays very well could capitalize on this perception of Saunders.
The fact that there is no messy draft pick nonsense to deal with in bringing Michael Saunders aboard makes him that much more appealing. Also, he is one of the only remaining options that could be seen as better than the current “in house” alternatives the Blue Jays have. He would be a good gamble for a team that is trying to maintain its talent floor. The Blue Jays would be betting on a guy whose value is below where it probably should be. They would be betting on Michael Saunders with one statement driving them: “He can’t possibly be THAT bad again, can he?”
*Featured Image Credit: Bliss Nogueira BlissPhoto.ca
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