Toronto Blue Jays Get Ben Zobrist-Lite by Signing Steve Pearce
Over the weekend, the Jays finalized their two-year, $12.5 million deal with utility man, Steve Pearce. he'll serve as the right-handed platoon with incumbents Melvin Upton and Justin Smoak. And with Kendrys Morales already in the mix at first base and designated hitter, that leaves no room at the inn for the man with the parrot on his arm.
The Jays will certainly miss Encarnacion's production. It's not easy to replace a wRC+ of 134, 42 home runs, and 127 RBIs. However, a closer look at Pearce's numbers last season (albeit in fewer plate appearances) compare quite favorably to the long-time Toronto All-Star.
Certainly, Encarnacion is a more dynamic power hitter, but Pearce had a better on-base percentage and OPS+ than Encarnacion did last season. And Pearce is versatile in the field, too. Last year, he played games at first base, second base, third base, left field, right field and designated hitter.
Combined with the Morales signing, Pearce provides the Blue Jays with a lot of options for far less cash at the positions where Encarnacion and Jose Bautista were long-time All Stars (although the latter could still return).
We all know that Chicago Cubs super utility man Ben Zobrist is the most versatile player in the game. He's a switch-hitter who can hit both left-handers and right-handers and can play almost every position on the diamond. There's a reason he's been an integral part of the last two world champions.
Pearce is what I like to call, "Ben Zobrist-Lite," and judging by the numbers, that's not far off.
Over the last three seasons, Zobrist has been worth 10.6 rWAR, while Pearce has been worth 7.8, and that includes a disastrous 2015 season in which he was a below replacement level player.
Since getting a chance to play almost every day with the Baltimore Orioles in 2014, Pearce has batted .267/.347/.493 with an .840 OPS and an OPS+ of 129 (league average is 100), worth 7.8 rWAR (Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement) over that stretch.
In 279 games (1010 plate appearances), he has 49 home runs, 52 doubles, and 124 RBIs in the last three years, and if you subtract his awful 2015 season, the numbers are even better.
While he crashed down to earth pretty hard in '15, he emerged with Tampa and, later on, back with Baltimore in '16 to put up another productive season.
In particular, Pearce mashes against left-handed pitching.
In 2014, he hit .327/.405/.704 with a 1.109 OPS and a wRC+ of 208 against lefties, smashing 9 of his 21 dingers against left-handed pitchers. He struggled against lefties in '15, but was back at it last year -- he hit .317/.411/.622 for an OPS of 1.032 and a wRC+ of 176, slugging 7 of his 13 bombs against southpaws in 2016.
Pearce started last season in Tampa but was traded to his old team, the O's, at the trade deadline for a minor leaguer. He missed the last half of September with a forearm injury but will be good to go.
The Blue Jays obviously didn't want to pony up the big bucks for their two aging stars. Instead, they grabbed one of the game's better utility players. Pearce has shown he can hit left-handers for power and, in a limited role, provides tremendous production as a power bat in the middle of a lineup.
He's not a stud defensively, but is about league average at every position and won't actively hurt Toronto with the glove.
All in all, this is a smart move for both the Blue Jays and Pearce, who now gets to play half his games in hitter-friendly Rogers Center for the next two seasons.