Jays From the Couch takes a look at Blue Jays outfielder Steve Pearce’s season to date, and what the future may hold
Steve Pearce has been quite the popular guy lately and even recently took the Blue Jays player of the month award. Go figure that hitting two walk off grand slams within a week of each other will do that for you. Heck, since I brought them up, let’s relive them, shall we? Let’s even throw in the highlights with Titanic music, because like it says, it’s even better with Titanic music!
A Rough Start
The thing about Steve Pearce, is that as recently highlighted by these two amazing events, is that he’s quite good. Unfortunately for Pearce, his first impression with the Blue Jays was not a good one, and those tend to stick. There is no sugar coating it, Pearce was absolutely brutal in April. A terrible slash line of .167/.211/.167 in 54 at bats highlighted a stat line that didn’t look any better in the peripherals. Pearce struck out nearly 30% of the time and only walked approximately 5% of the time. Even the balls he was putting in play weren’t going for hits, as shown by a low .243 BABIP. All of this was responsible for a disgusting -3 wRC+. Every time they use Pearce’s graphic, it’s easy to imagine him reading his April stat line.
Things didn’t look like he’d be turning it around either. Using Statcast’s expected weighted on base average (xwOBA), Pearce was sitting at a lowly 0.232. At this point, it was bad with no end in sight. Pearce was looking more like a DFA candidate than a solid contributor for the 2017 Blue Jays.
Since April Pearce has figured things out and bounced back towards the hitter that he has been throughout his career. Prior to his injury in May, Pearce was striking out less and walking more. He also increased his slash line by hitting .276/.333/.759 in the month and even had a whopping 173 wRC+. Granted the sample size is small, as with the injury the 34-year-old only saw 29 at bats in May.
When Pearce returned in June, he came back right where he left off in May. Again, another small sample size due to injury, but Pearce had an unbelievable 248 wRC+ in the 26 at bats he got. So with these big two months, and a solid month of July, the perception of Pearce is phenomenally better. April excluded, Pearce is hitting .301/.363/.566. Those kind of numbers put him second only to Justin Smoak on the team in average and slugging, and fourth in OBP. Pearce’s wRC+? 135. Second again to only Justin Smoak.
Even using the xwOBA metric, Pearce has seen significant improvement, jumping all the way up to 0.341. That number is good enough for fourth among Jay’s regulars. Pearce’s turn around since April isn’t an anomaly, its positive regression to the mean. Right now, Pearce is a top three hitter for the Blue Jays.
But What About the Defense?
Now, defensively, Pearce is definitely not a stud by any stretch of the imagination, especially in left field where he is currently stationed. Through this year Pearce has an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of -5.9 and an underwhelming -8 DRS. It’s a down season for Pearce, who in his career has been better totaling a -1 DRS and -4.6 UZR. These are still negative numbers though and essentially shows that Pearce is below average defensively in left field.
What Pearce brings, however, is the ability to play all over the diamond. The utility man has well over 600 innings in left and right field, 1602 innings at first base, 242 innings at second, and 70 at third. The Florida native is best defensively by far at first base, only having 1 season with a negative UZR in 2010, and posting a career 12 DRS and 9.0 UZR.
Unfortunately, at least two other players are in front of Pearce for that spot. The next best position up? Right field comes next. Although not as positive as his first base contribution, Pearce has been a career average contributor in right field. Number 28 has posted slightly above average UZR numbers over the past 4 years in that spot. Pearce is a solid contributor in the right corner totaling 4 DRS and a -0.1 in his career, despite those numbers being significantly hurt by a -2.4 UZR in 2008.
Finally, although not in his wheelhouse, Pearce is able to step in at second and third when called upon. Combining for less than 300 innings at this spot, it’s not an ideal place to drop him. His total numbers in these spots are not terrible, however, and could allow for spot starts at either position when need be, without being a total liability.
Looking ahead to the remainder of the year, it looks like Pearce has cemented his spot as the starting left fielder, with the benefit of being able to move him around on the occasional off days. There is a catch, however, with the Jays currently rostering five outfielders, as Shaun looked at here.
Trades are still able to occur in August if a player passes through revocable waivers, or a deal can be worked out with the team that claims them. As reported Thursday, Jose Bautista was placed on these waivers. As Shaun explores, is it big news? No. Every player and their dog will be put on waivers to keep options open, and more than likely simply be revoked if claimed.
What it does mean is that if a team with legitimate interest claims Bautista, or he passes through, it allows the Jays to open back up trade discussions they were having prior to the non-waiver deadline. If somehow the Blue Jays can work out a trade for Bautista, the spot in right field opens up. As looked at earlier, although still not as ideal as first base, over his career Pearce’s defensive metrics are better in right. They are also an upgrade on what Bautista has mustered up over the last two years.
Moving Pearce into right would be both a defensive and offensive upgrade on Bautista, and also opens up the left side to work in Nori Aoki, Ezequiel Carrera (I know, I know, but dude is third on the team in wRC+ with 118…..) or, and maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, Teoscar Hernandez.
Chances of this happening are incredibly low, as waiver deals are few and far between. To complicate things further, Bautista’s 10-5 rights also come into play. This situation, however, is something that will more than likely present itself next year. Bautista is looking less and less likely as an option to return. Without him back, the switch over for Pearce as mentioned would be a positional upgrade in right. It also opens up a spring battle in left field for guys like Aoki (if not designated), Dalton Pompey, Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr., Hernandez, and so on. Barring the movement of Smoak and or Morales (or even Pearce himself, for that matter), the right field spot could be the ideal place for Pearce in 2018.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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