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The season that was: Michael Saunders

A look at Saunder’s 2016 season

Wild Card Game - Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

I think it is safe to say that none of us had any idea what the Jays would get from Michael Saunders this year.

You know the story of Saunders’ 2015 season, early in spring training he lost a battle with a sprinkler head and wrecked his knee. After surgery there was some hope that Michael might only miss a month or two, but he missed the full season, minus 9 games when he tried to play through the pain.

Something I don’t understand is why Saunders didn’t sue the Jays for negligence. Having a sprinkler where baseball players are baseballing seems stupid for a major league team. Since a player only has a short career, and that losing the season likely cost him in future earnings, he’d likely have a case. Course I don’t know if he and the Jays came to a private arrangement.

Anyway, going into this season I didn’t have high hopes for Saunders, I had my doubts he could stay healthy for the full year. I would have set the over/under on games played at about 60. He did much better than that.

Year   Age   G  AB  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+ GDP HBP
2016    29 140 490 70 124 32  3 24  57  1  2 59 157 .253 .338 .478 .815  115  14   5
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If, at the start of the season, you would have told me that he would have stats like that , I would have been thrilled. If you told me, at mid-season, that this would have been how his final numbers looked, I would have been very sad.

Baseball Reference has him at a 1.3 WAR. FanGraphs 1.4 WAR, giving him a value of $11.4 million to the Jays.

Michael had a very good postseason, hitting .381/.409/.571 with 1 home run in 8 games.

He had a .348 wOBA and a 117 wRC+ on the season.

Compared to his career average (there is no value in comparing him to his handful of at bats from last year), his walk rate was up (10.6%, up from 9.6) and his strikeout rate was up (28.1%, from 26.1).

Compared to his career numbers Michael’s line drive rate was up (22.5%, up from 20.0), ground ball rate down (40.7%, from 41.7) and fly ball rate down (36.8%, down from 38.3). More of his fly balls left the park (19.5%, up from 12.7, likely the difference between playing at Safeco and playing at Rogers).

His BABIP was .321, up from his career number of .296, which makes sense considering his line drive rate was up.

As you likely remember, Saunders had reverse splits, hitting .275/.358/.569 vs LHP, and .247/.332/.451 vs RHP.

He hit slightly better at home (.266/.353/.481) than on they road (.241/.323/.474).

He didn’t hit much with RISP (.204/.294/.352).

And you know that Michael hit much better in the first half (.298/.372/.551) than the second half (.178/.282/.357).

Saunders by month:

  • April: .311/.370/.581 with 4 home runs and 8 RBI in 19 games
  • May: .276/.372/.490 with 5 home runs and 10 RBI in 27 games
  • June: .286/.350/.593 with 6 home runs and 16 RBI in 26 games
  • July: .256/.374/.488 with 4 home runs and 12 RBI in 22 games
  • August: .218/.299/.436 with 4 home runs and 8 RBI in 22 games
  • September: .149/.230/.224 with 1 home runs and 3 RBI in 24 games

I don’t know why his production dropped off after the All-Star break, I’d guess that his knee was hurting, but that’s just a guess. Perhaps teams learned how to pitch him.

Defensively? Well, he was terrible. FanGraphs has him at a -11.3 UZR/150 for the season. He played 884 innings in left field, 172 innings in right field and 1 inning in center field. He had 5 assists, I thought his arm was average at best. And he made 2 errors for a .990 FA. He was a better defensive player in the past, but maybe the knee has cost him his speed.

Speaking of speed, FanGraphs has him at -0.9 runs, as a base runner, slightly worse than average. He stole 1 base and was caught 2 times. He had been a pretty good base runner in the past.

His longest hit strike was 8 games, longest on base streak 15 games. His longest streak without a home run was 15 games.

Michael’s favorite team to face? He hit .545/.583/1.000 in 3 games against the Giants. Of teams he played more often, he hit .397/.473/.841 with 7 home runs in 18 games against the Orioles.

Least favorite? He hit .000/.214/.000 in 3 games against the A’s.

Saunders hit in every spot in the lineup, from 1 to 9, making at least 2 starts in each spot from 1 to 8. He hit 4th the most, 48 games and hit .250/.362/.551 as cleanup hitter.

Saunders had a very quick fall from All-Star to a player who didn’t deserve a Qualifying Offer.

I do like the guy. He was happy to be a Blue Jay. And he took his injury with a lot more class than I would have.

I’m curious to see who signs him and how he does in the future. I don’t know why he stopped hitting, so I don’t see any reason he couldn’t start hitting again. I wouldn’t sign him to play outfield, but I would look at him as a first baseman/DH. The only problem with that is that you wouldn’t want a DH who you weren’t really sure whether he would hit like an All-Star or hit like a replacement player.

I don’t know who would be likely to sign him. I would suggest someone that wanted a platoon first baseman, but Saunders had big time reverse splits, so platooning might not be a good plan. Maybe a team that would want a platoon first baseman and also someone that could occasionally play left field.

I think I’d rather go into the season with Saunders as first baseman than go into the season with Justin Smoak as first baseman.