Which Michael Saunders Will the Philadelphia Phillies Get in 2017?
Outfielder Michael Saunders enjoyed the hottest stretch of baseball in his career during the first half of the 2016 season, which led to him representing the Toronto Blue Jays in the All-Star game last July. Unfortunately for him and his wallet, that first-half play didn't carry over into August and September.
Instead of getting a big payday after an overall career year, he had to settle for a one-year, $9 million contract with an option for 2018 with the Philadelphia Phillies. For a young and rebuilding team, Saunders brings some power and depth to Citizens Bank Park, but will they get the first-half Saunders or second-half Saunders this season?
Will The Real Michael Saunders Please Stand Up?
Entering his age-30 season in 2017, Saunders has experienced a very up-and-down career with multiple injuries and stints in the minor leagues. After debuting in 2009, he finally worked his way up to playing in 100 games for the Seattle Mariners in 2010. However, it wasn't until 2012 when he became a full-timer in the outfield for the organization, and it took until last season for him to seemingly put it all together at the plate.
The only problem was that his success at the start of the season didn't progress throughout the summer.
Through the first half of the season, Saunders was on par with some of baseball's top sluggers. Once the midsummer classic came and went, he literally went in the complete opposite direction. His cumulative line of .253/.338/.478 with 24 home runs, 57 RBI and 117 wRC+ doesn't look all that bad. However, just looking at the overall numbers and not digging a little deeper to see how he arrived at them wouldn't be right.
Was it a banner year for him when comparing 2016 to his previous years in the big leagues? It was, but this performance doesn't come without question marks.
Batted Ball Progression
This drop in production very apparent in his batted ball numbers, which shows a significant decline in line-drive rate to go along with an increase in soft-hit rate -- two things no big-league hitter wants to see happen.
This reduction in line drives was what mostly fueled an increase of nearly 10 percentage points in ground balls. So, his downturn in just about every power category from the first half to the second half shouldn't be surprising, especially since his fly-ball rate also took a slight dip through it all.
Another indication of Saunders' struggles could be revealed through his strikeout rate. He struck out 26.7% of the time in the first half, which is already a lot, but tolerable when he was producing at the level he was. His strikeout rate then increased to 30.4% following his appearance in the All-Star game, and with no power to soften the burden of that increase, it became a major concern.
Trusting the Process
With Joel Embiid taking the city of Philadelphia and the entire NBA by storm over the past few months, the Phillies have been working on a rebuilding process of their own.
Signing Saunders makes sense for this club because of what he provides the organization: a short-term option in the outfield with power and big-league experience that can also turn into a trade chip by the summer. It's very much on par with Philly acquiring starting pitcher Clay Buchholz from the Boston Red Sox.
According to Roster Resource, Saunders will find a home in the Phillies lineup between third baseman Maikel Franco and new full-time first baseman, Tommy Joseph. Not only will there be some veteran leadership in between these two young sluggers, but his left-handed bat will also break up both the right-handers and form a potentially powerful trio.
Given his new situation -- moving to the National League and playing his home games at Citizens Bank Park -- it's reasonable to expect the above overall numbers from Saunders again in 2017, with the hope he can flash that ability to be an above average hitter from time to time. The Phillies are surely hoping he can at least be a little more consistent at the plate than he was last season.