Jays From the Couch looks at what to expect in 2017 from Toronto Blue Jays offseason signing, 1B/OF, Steve Pearce
In late April 2014, the Baltimore Orioles placed 1B/LF Steve Pearce on release waivers after only making seven plate appearances with the team that season. Over the next few hours, the Toronto Blue Jays would claim him and the Orioles would place their slugging first baseman Chris Davis on the disabled list. Pearce would eventually opt to become a free agent and re-sign in Baltimore in the coming days, posting a 161 wRC+ and slashing .293/.373/.556 over 102 games in a career year.
Baltimore won the division that year and Pearce hit a three-run home run in the clinching game against…the Toronto Blue Jays.
Two years later, the Blue Jays finally got their man, signing him to a two-year deal worth $12.5 million. Pearce joins Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales at the first base/designated hitter spot, but can also be used in the corner outfield.
Pearce hit really well the first few months into the season for the Rays, slashing .309/.388/.520 with a wRC+ of 147. After being traded back to the Orioles at the non-waiver deadline, Pearce’s production fell off a cliff and he slashed .217/.329/.400.
There are a few things to talk about here. Ever the optimist, this is why Blue Jays fans shouldn’t fret over Steve Pearce’s struggles to end the season.
Rays on top, Orioles on the bottom. Graphics via FanGraphs.
Pearce’s batting average on balls in play dropped by over a hundred points, which explains the slash line. What’s interesting here is that his exit velocity was pretty much the same and the only difference on the balls he put in play was that he began to pull it a lot. Hell, the outs he made on balls in play as an Oriole in 2016 (90.7 MPH) were hit harder than the outs he made to start the year with Tampa Bay (86.5 MPH).
Via Baseball Savant, this is what his outs looked like after the trade with Rogers Centre dimensions.
There are a lot of close calls on hard hit balls there. I get that you can do something like this for almost every player in the league not named Josh Thole, but there’s a real argument here that he was pretty unlucky.
Again, Pearce got hurt in September, causing him to have season-ending surgery. He missed the last three weeks of the season. At the risk of sounding like a Blue Jays shill, Pearce’s 2016 Baltimore sample size was only 70 plate appearances and that isn’t enough to judge a player on.
These projections look like a conservative guess of what Pearce could do. His walk rate will be slightly above league average and will provide a good amount of pop. Pearce won’t be a star-level starter, but he’ll still be a valuable part of the 2017 team if he puts up those numbers and stays on the field.
Something that needs to be said is that the oft-injured Pearce misses a ton of games. Over the past three years, he’s played in just 279 games. While it would be nice to see him in the lineup 130+ times, it’s important to keep in mind that given his injury history, it probably won’t happen.
Over the past three seasons, Pearce has played innings at first, second and third, as well as left and right field. Going by defensive runs saved, Pearce hasn’t excelled defensively at any of those positions (other than first), but he also hasn’t been awful. A healthy wRC+ and offensive production with lineup flexibility will mitigate mediocre defensive play.
Pearce’s versatility will help the Blue Jays in 2017 because it will let John Gibbons try to get creative with a lineup that features a right fielder that can’t field, a mess in left field and a starting first baseman that can’t do, well…anything.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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I’m a lifelong Blue Jays fan studying journalism in Toronto. I was only eight months old when Joe touched ’em all, so I’m just patiently waiting to see a parade of my own. The sweet swing of Carlos Delgado is what hooked me in and I’ve loved this team ever since. Jose Bautista slander isn’t welcome around these parts.