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Michael Saunders, where did you go?

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After an all-star worthy first half, Michael Saunders performance has fallen off. But where exactly did it go?

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Saunders was one of the premier players in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform this season. He was an all-star. And then, as the days passed, he wasn't.

He went from hitting .298/.372/.557 in the first half to struggling with a pedestrian .179/.283/.377 line. At his peak, Blue Jays nation were left asking over the airwaves whether the team would have the money to bring back a beloved Canadian star such as Saunders. At his crater, many of those same people are asking whether they should at all. Such is the fickle nature of sporting interests, though.

In reality, Michael Saunders isn't having all that bad of a season. To date he's hitting .257/.341/.490 and has the potential to set a career high for games played after already setting a career mark in home runs with 24. His 1.8 fWAR is somewhat depleted from his mark earlier this season, but it's still up from his companion Melvin Upton Jr.

That said, after seeing Saunders take off on a linear path to awesomeness earlier this season, it's difficult to put your finger on his struggles at the plate since the all-star break. It's almost as if the collective baseball world came together in San Diego not to compete in a mid-summer classic but instead to discuss how best to stymie the threat of Michael Saunders's bat. It would be pertinent then to look at a couple theories for why Saunders's potent bat has transformed into that of a pool noodle during one of the most important times of the season.

One theory you could use is that pitchers are attacking him differently. When looking at the type of pitches that Saunders has been thrown both before and after the all-star break, there really isn't a huge disparity between the two that would give you an epiphany or aha moment pointing to his struggles.(ALL CHARTS ARE TO DATE SEPT 19/16).

Saunders before All-Star break Brooks Baseball

Saunders after all-star break Brooks Baseball

On the aggregate level, he's seeing slightly less hard pitches from left-handed pitchers in the second half than he did in the first half, but there's not enough there to suggest it's a massive discrepancy that would cause this type of drop off.

The other idea in terms of pitch selection would be where Saunders is getting pitched--i.e, are pitchers exploiting a different area of the strike zone to get Saunders out in the second half. Here, again, we see some discrepancies, but nothing alarming.

Saunders first half Brooks Baseball

saunders second half Brooks Baseball

As you can see in the first half of the season, pitchers attacked Saunders down and away predominantly which is more or less what they're still doing in the second half of the season. Without breaking down each pitch in each location and in the count sequence then, it's a reasonable conclusion to say that Saunders is mostly being pitched the same way in both the first and second half of the season. If there are differences, they aren't noticeable on the average level.

When you delve into batting average on each block of the zone for Saunders, you are able to notice some changes but with such a small sample size in certain sections of the zone, it's hard to attribute any real conclusions.

Which leads you to what's left. From the macro perspective, you could look at his .377 BABIP from the first half of the season and point out that regression of some kind was inevitable in the second half. With a .216 BABIP in the second half of the season producing a .322 mark on the season in total, Saunders is technically still getting a little bit more batted ball luck than his career .296 mark would project.

Then there's the mention that Saunders is hitting the ball to the corners more in the second half and less to center field than he was earlier on in the year. With his ground ball rate increasing nearly 10 per cent while pulling the ball more, it's conceivable Saunders's timing is off and is rolling over on pitches with weaker contact than he had earlier this season too.

More or less, Michael Saunders has came back to earth to be the player he was essentially projected to be. It's the law of averages so the statisticians say. But he's been worth 1.8 fWAR on the season, has hit 24 home runs and stayed in uniform throughout the entire season. If you flip your calendar back to mid-winter 2016, I'm not sure many of you would have slotted these achievements down as guarantees.

So is Saunders a perennial all-star and nightly threat in the Jays lineup the way he was in the first half of 2016? No, maybe not. But he doesn't need to be. He just has to be Michael Saunders.