Can You Win Your Next Pennant with Michael Saunders CF?
Evolving into a weird kind of B.J. Upton comp


Q.  How does his swing look?

A.  Like his preferred mechanics are starting to become a habit.  An NCAA point guard, later a coach, once told me that if you overhaul your shot motion correctly, you won't be able to remember how you did it previously.  And that your shot wasn't fixed until the old motion had vanished forever, even in your memory.

I don't remember the last time I saw Saunders hook his "ki" around the corner toward 1B.  He seems to be reflexively driving his center of gravity back up the middle, finishing the swing at the 1B line, and this includes panic/defensive swings.  ... Hope so.

The last 28 days, he was hitting .283/.368/.533, and that was before the homer to dead CF on Friday.  (Admittedly, his BABIP was .370 over that span, but his EYE was a solid 0.40.)


Q.  He's hitting way better against LHP.  What does that mean, hitting well lefty-on-lefty?

A.  Usually they'll tell you it means that a batter is keeping his shoulder and nose into the strike zone.  Granted, that's one part of it -- certainly a hitter who is chickening out is NOT going to hit LH on LH.

But I take good LHB vs LHP splits to be a sign of quickness and explosiveness.  ... when a LHB ages, first thing to go are his platoon splits.  If his reflexes slow even a little bit, well, he has less time LH on LH so he's got to start the bat before he sees the ball.  Then the offspeed eats him alive and he's a platoon hitter.

We remember Don Mattingly getting embarrassed against Randy Johnson.  "I'm getting older, and he's getting better.  It's not a good matchup."

Michael Saunders is an EXPLOSIVE hitter.  He is 9,000 kinds of SUDDEN on that bat launch.  His .471 SLG this year, in 180 PA's against lefties, warn of major upside.


Q.  What does he project to in 2012?

A.  If Saunders does NOT improve from right now, but DOES keep the "ki" going back up the middle then ::shrug:: his wRC+ is already 112, and that includes struggles earlier in the year.

You're not asking Saunders to improve to be a 112 offensive player (100 being average).  That's what he did this last year.

For him to hit .260/.360/.460 next year, in a neutral park, would be nothing more than a continuation of what he's doing late this year.  The EYE comes in at 50:120.  


Q.  This would be similar to which players?

A.  Saunders' batting skill set is becoming eerily similar to B.J. Upton's.  In fact the K% and BB% are a bit on Saunders' side:  7% and 24% Saunders vs 8% and 27% Upton.  

At the moment, the Mariners have pretty much a left hand B.J. Upton in center field, and --- > he's improving quickly from there.  Granted, Upton is having a bit of a regressed year, down from 4.0 WAR to 3.2 WAR, but his devolving EYE proves that's no accident.  Saunders' defense is probably underrated by UZR, and his baserunning is certainly underrated by Fangraphs' formula.  Saunders is credited with 2.7 WAR this year and a good solid 3.0 is fair.  Saunders has just about caught Upton for value, aside from being an excellent skills-set match.

(And did you know that, in 2012, Curtis Granderson has exactly the same wRC+ as Saunders does?  ... it's taken a bit of BABIP bad luck, but still.)  A couple of other guys who had this kind of skill set -- nice speed, dangerous but not great power, 50 walks, 120 strikeouts, .260 AVG type thing in CF ... Lloyd Moseby, Andy Van Slyke, Amos Otis, Juan Encarnacion.  Saunders physically looks so different from them.  Maybe he's just passing through their comp way stations on his career arc?

Ron Shandler would look at the PX, and the trends, and tag the possibility of a seerrrrrrrious career spike -- 30 or 35 homers -- in 2013 or 2014 or 2015.  But if he's "only" B.J. Upton making less than a mill a year, that's all right too.

Center field appears to be squared away for Jay-Z.  You can win your next pennant with this player.




Mike Cameron, '99-'00-01
OK...from the left side.
2 of those seasons we had the pleasure to watch up close.

misterjonez's picture

Is their handedness. Cammy succeeded in spite of Safeco, as a righty with medium-big pop and big holes in his swing and approach.
Even if Saunders is Mike Cameron2.0 with the bat, the fact that he's a naturally powerful lefty in Safeco is in his favor when it comes to career stall/collapse due to the park.
It just can't be overstated, the importance of lefty vs. righty in Safeco Field, as a Mariner.


Kirk Gibson as a comp. Hard nosed, struck out too much before that sort of thing was acceptable, a go to guy for leadership and of course a never-quit attitude. The stats he put up were good but not incredible and his career best line of .287/.364/.518 with 29 home runs in 30 stolen bases seems well within reach for Saunders (though I still think could step up to a Shawn Green level .300/.370/600 line).

ghost's picture

SP1, SP3, (King Felix, Erasmo Ramirez)...
THE ENTIRE BULLPEN (we have like 12 guys I'd be comfortable using out of the pen...five of them are left handed...LOL!)
CF (Saunders)
3B (Seager)
2B (Ackley)
C (Jaso/Montero)
We are now committed to giving Smoak another chance in 2013 if he looks like he does right now when we get to ST...and if he doesn't, we have Liddi and Carp for the position as well as Montero if you want to give some games to Olivo behind the plate and let Montero work out at first in preparation for Zunino's arrival.
That leaves LF, RF and SS as areas we could use to conceivably improve the offense. The Mariners will likely want to give F-Gutz a chance to win back CF (and move Saunders over to LF) but you can't count on Gutierrez to stay healthy or be overly productive, so I think even Z would agree you need multiple stoploss chips backing him up. Eric Thames and Casper Wells don't look like starter material to me. Neither does Brendan Ryan...sorry, but hitting .191 isn't good enough even for a guy saving 25 runs a year on defense. Get cracking on finding a real SS and a power hitting outfielder, Z!


You know who has those career averages? Jayson Werth. A 6'5" OF'r with those number, good defense and good baserunning is a heck of a valuable player.


Jack Z does not, repeat DOES NOT, need to find another shortstop. Brendan Ryan is indeed a perfectly acceptable player at short. Not denying that his offensive line in 2012 is awful, but he's had a tendency to flip-flop between "good" years and bad years at the plate. Even in the bad years he's 2 WAR, that is to say league average. I'd pencil him in for an offensive bounce back next year. It's not like he's so old he's in offensive decline territory. You can dislike watching Ryan hit, but you can't really deny his value--his career UZR has reached the stabilization threshold and it reads out as "best defensive shortstop of the decade".
And even if you don't like Ryan, which is silly, Franklin and Miller are one and two years away from the major leagues respectively. Why would Z go out and acquire a new guy-- knowing that the new guy must be better than Ryan, thus better than league average, thus expensive, knowing that the hot prospect squad is going to be here almost immediately? It's silly.
Corner OF, yes. SS, no.

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