Jays From the Couch brings you the player Highlights & Lowlights from the 2017 season. This time: Steve Pearce
Many of us (myself definitely included) had high hopes for Steve Pearce going into the 2017 season. His past results (high quality, low quantity) meant that he was one of the few 34 year olds with true upside. When he was signed by the Blue Jays, he had produced 2.5 WAR per 600 PA over his career. With a salary of just $6.25 million, a full season of Pearce had the potential to be the steal of the off-season.
Unfortunately, replacement-level seasons generally don’t produce many highlights. All in all, Pearce had a very…blah season. His hitting and baserunning were okay. His defence was less than okay. Ultimately, by underperforming across the board, he had an overall unproductive season.
Batting-wise, he finished up as a league-average hitter. He struck out, got hits and hit for power at career norm rates. His xBA and xwOBA on batted balls was slightly below average, suggesting that he wasn’t particularly lucky or unlucky. He got on-base slightly less often than normal, due to a slightly lower than normal walk rate.
Running-wise, he was slightly less productive than the league average (-1 BsR), befitting his slightly less than average speed (26.6 ft/s).
Pearce’s fielding was his biggest issue. Heading into the season, the plan was for him to play a mix of left field and first base. This was a good plan as he was an above-average fielder in both positions for his career—7 DRS in LF and 12 DRS at 1B. Smoak’s emergence this year meant that he spent most of his time in left field and, unfortunately, he had a career-worst defensive season there.
Ultimately, average hitting + slightly below-average running + well below-average defence at a non-premium position equals replacement-level value.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2018
What can we expect from Pearce next year? Based on his track record, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. My highly scientific projections (by which I mean if he maintains his recent pattern of good season-bad season-good season-bad season) suggest that the Jays are gonna get some great production from him this year.
His ability to rebound will hinge on his hitting and fielding, as his baserunning value is remarkably consistent each year.
His production at the plate was torpedoed by his terrible, terrible April (-2 wRC+). September was equally bad (8 wRC+). In 267 plate appearances from May to August, Pearce hit for a very strong 129 wRC+, which helped him produce 1.0 WAR. There is genuine hope for an offensive turnaround for Pearce.
I’m less hopeful that he can recover his fielding skills in the outfield. His performance this past season built upon a trend—from 2007 to 2014, Pearce saved 16 defensive runs in 1064 outfield innings. In the three seasons since, he’s generated -11 DRS over 1082 innings. There is a genuine concern that age and injuries have eroded Pearce’s value in the outfield. This has led to louder and louder calls to trade him (or move him to DH and trade Kendrys Morales).
Pearce has got one year left with the Jays at a very modest salary. If he produces 1.5 WAR this season, he’d be fair value for his entire two-year deal. In order to accomplish that, the pressure is squarely on his bat to recover the form that led him to produce an .850+ OPS in 2014 and 2016 (and from May to August 2017).
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.