Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.
Michael Saunders was one of the Blue Jays’ big question marks heading into 2016. Thanks to his horrible, meniscus-tearing knee injury sustained in spring training of 2015, Saunders only played nine games that year and was looking to make a comeback. Come back, he did, playing 140 games including all but nine in the outfield.
Saunders started out the season like a man on fire, hitting .311/.370/.581 with four home runs in April before slugging another 12 homers and hitting .294/.373/.541 by the All-Star break, earning himself his first appearance in the Mid-Summer Classic.
Saunders went into a funk following the break, however, hitting only .178/.282/.357 over 214 plate appearances. As a left-handed hitter, his splits were actually fine, hitting .247/.332/.451 against right-handed pitchers and .275/.358/.569 against lefties but, of note, he hit only .204/.281/.447 against left-handed starters, leading me to believe that the number of at bats against lefties seriously declined after the All-Star break, and particularly after the Jays acquired Melvin Upton, Jr.
Overall, the numbers weren’t all that bad with Saunders hitting .253/.338/.478 with 24 home runs (a career-high) and 1.4 fWAR (1.3 rWAR, via Baseball Reference). He had a 117 wRC+ (creating runs 17% higher than league average) but, at least according to Fangraphs, he lost a lot of value on the defensive end and almost all of his value came from the first half of the season.
Still, Saunders managed to find his groove in the postseason. He was 1/2 against Baltimore in the Wild Card game, hitting a double, while he was 1/5 in limited action against Texas. Against Cleveland, however, he hit .429, going 6/14 with a home run.
Saunders could return to Toronto on a free agent contract and the Jays could use the left-handed bat but the big risk in signing him would be whether the team is signing the first-half Saunders or the second-half Saunders.
Saunders is currently a free agent.
It almost seems unfair to compare Michael Saunders’ first-half performance to his second-half numbers. The 29-year-old left fielder was a candidate for, and winner of, the American League Final Vote to the All-Star Game after a successful campaign where Jays fans rallied around ‘Captain Canada’. His 2015 campaign was shortened to nine games due to a knee injury, but at the beginning of 2016 he seemed more than ready to make up for lost time.
Saunders had a .298/.372/.551 line before making his first career appearance as an All-Star, and hit .178/.282/.357 afterwards. He hit his first home run as a Blue Jay on April 4th, the second game of the season. He finished April with four homers and a .311 average. In May, he added five more home runs, including three in a four-game span. He had a twelve-game on-base streak in mid-May, during only one of which he went without a hit, and the tail end of the streak was five straight multi-hit games. He also struck out 33 times in May, more than any other month. He and Russell Martin became the first pair of Canadian teammates to hit home runs in the same inning, a feat they’d duplicate later in the year.
On June 17th in Baltimore, Saunders hit three home runs in the same game, totally 8 RBI for the night. It was the first three-homer game of his career. He hit six in the month, and had a .286 average. July featured his season high in walks, 16, but this was when his hitting took a downturn. He had a .256 average, but didn’t get a single hit in the first four games after the All-Star Break. He had 28 strikeouts in July, four home runs and five doubles.
In August, he hit .218 and his monthly OBP dipped below .300 for the first time, resting at .299. His playing time was reduced somewhat with the trade deadline addition of Melvin Upton Jr. He had 17 hits in 78 at-bats in August and was 10-for-65 (.154) in September. He only walked five times in September, for an OBP of .214, and had one home run and two doubles. He didn’t have any hits in the final two regular season games in October, but did walk twice.
Saunders finished the season with a .253/.338/.478 line, 24 home runs, 57 RBI and three triples (the second-most on the team). He had the fourth-highest OPS among Jays position players with 400+ AB. His walk rate was 10.9% and his strikeout rate was 28.1%. Impressively for a left-handed hitter, Saunders had better numbers against pitchers of the same handedness – he hit .275/.358/.569 with eight home runs in 109 plate appearances against LHP, compared to .247/.332/.451 with sixteen HR in 381 PA against righties. In 1058 innings in the Toronto outfield (most spent in LF), Saunders made two errors and five assists, with a .990 fielding percentage.
I would have given him an A for his first-half numbers, and a D+ for the second half, so averaging the two out he gets a B- overall.
Saunders didn’t play in the outfield at all in the postseason, instead appearing in eight playoff games as a DH. He was 1-for-2 in the Wild Card game with a double, a strikeout, and scored the game-tying run in the 5th. In the ALDS he was 1-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts, and went 6-for-14 in the ALCS, including one of only two home runs hit by the Blue Jays in the series. His postseason average was .381, with an OBP of .409 and a slugging percentage of .571.
Regular Season Grades
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