It’s been a tale of two completely different seasons for Michael Saunders in 2016. Prior to the All-Star break, Saunders was one of the Blue Jays’ strongest hitters; since the break, he’s been anything but.
By now, you’ve probably heard that Michael Saunders is having a tough time in the second half. But how rough? Extremely rough. Saunders is a complete polar opposite of his first half self.
Even if Saunders continues at this pace, he’s already set several new career highs in terms of home runs, and he’ll surely establish new career highs in RBI’s, walks, batting average, slugging and OPS. But the Michael Saunders as of late is a far cry from the same player the Blue Jays employed earlier this season.
FanGraphs had an interesting piece which chronicles Michael Saunders’ historic un-clutchieness (to use a word) this season, and the numbers are not favourable whatsoever. A large part of that can be attributed to his horrendous play at the plate since the All-Star break.
Saunders first and second half splits are like night and day.
There’s a lot of troubling trends here, but here’s the one that’s the most alarming to me; Michael Saunders has seven extra base hits in the second half. Just seven. In 29 games and 121 plate appearances in the second half, Saunders has two doubles and four home runs. That’s it.
By comparison, earlier this month, Devon Travis had a game against the Rays when he collected four extra base hits in one single game; three less than Michael Saunders has the entire second half.
For the longest time, Saunders occupied the cleanup spot in the Blue Jays order, and luckily, John Gibbons has come to his senses and pushed Saunders down into the fifth, sixth and seventh spots in the batting order.
Time and time again, Saunders has practically been an automatic out in high leverage situations. He tends to strike out a lot (then again, who doesn’t in this lineup?), but the worrying part is Michael Saunders’ first half power has all but disappeared in the second half.
It could be said that Michael Saunders was simply playing way over his head from April to early July, and his play as of late is merely a career correction. The dramatic BABIP drop from .377 to .197 in one half to another is a bit scary, but to me the complete lack of power to all fields is the most concerning part.
Saunders is striking out at a rate of over 30% in the second half, which is nearly Justin Smoak and Melvin Upton Jr. territory. And those three together have combined to create the Blue Jays strikeout trifecta near the bottom of the order.
To me, it’s crazy that Saunders went from having the sixth highest OPS in the American League during the first half (at .923), to the seventh lowest OPS in the AL (.595 in the second half of 2016).
Saunders has demonstrated a total lack of power for the past five-plus weeks, and the startling part is he isn’t showing any signs of hitting his way out of it. With a lack of viable and healthy outfielders, Michael Saunders will still patrol the outfield for the time being.
Despite struggling more than perhaps any other Blue Jays hitter, Michael Saunders will continue to see regular playing time down the stretch. The Jays really don’t have any other options, but they can opt to bury him in the lineup for the time being.
Especially with the Blue Jays’ run production at a standstill as of late, they can’t afford to keep sending Michael Saunders to the plate batting in high leverage situations.
This past series against the Cleveland Indians was a series of missed opportunities, and by allowing Michael Saunders to come up to the plate batting cleanup behind Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion, it just allows opposing pitchers to throw around Donaldson and Edwin and attack Saunders instead.
He’s been an easy out, so why wouldn’t opposing pitchers go after Michael Saunders? Especially since he’s been leaving the ball in the yard, there hasn’t been much threat of him going deep.
I wonder how much Saunders’ second half will affect his value as a free agent. The Blue Jays could very well deem that he’s not even worth a qualifying offer, which at this point, you can’t really blame them for paying Saunders $17 million dollars.
If there’s one thing to take solace in when it comes to Michael Saunders, it’s that several Blue Jays hitters have gone through long slumps this season and come out the other side. Both Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin dealt with struggles in the first half, and now they’re two of the hottest hitters on the club.
But with the Blue Jays in the midst of a pennant race and with runs at a premium, Saunders is struggling at the worst possible time.