It was the April of the Pencil.
Michael Saunders played only five complete games out of 25. He saw limited action in 14 others.
He was a reserve. A platoon guy. Buried on the bench.
His line: .179/.267/.333.
But it wasn’t as ugly as it looked. His BABIP was .207, his walk rate was solid, and three extra-base hits in 45 trips to the plate is just fine.
Then it was the May of the Scotch.
Was it genius? Was it scotch? Was it just that no one else was left?
We don’t know, but since May 1, Saunders has played the full game 16 of 21 times.
He’s a regular.
His line: .324/.351/.441.
Is most of that accountable to a 150-point jump in BABIP? Yes. Has his walk rate actually declined? Yes.
But the most remarkable thing, as we noted the other day, is that Saunders’ strikeout rate has dropped like a rock.
|2014 batting anywhere other than #1 or #2||21.95%|
|2014 batting #1 or #2||13.75%|
Now it happens that Saunders has hit near the top of the order before. In fact, coming into 2014, he’d started 63 games at No. 1 or No. 2 in the order, and, in those games, his strikeout rate wasn’t any different.
Only now does the new low-K Saunders arrive. Whether it’s the scotch or something else, we’ll take it.
Saunders has always had an above-average walk rate, and has been about league-average in his XBH%. His high K-rate kept his batting average low, and kept him from being a guy with much value given the rest of his game.
If he can sustain a K-rate in the teens, then his line is going to look a whole lot better.
And we always knew he was a great athlete (he played hockey, lacrosse and basketball as well as baseball growing up in British Columbia).
On Thursday, he won the game when his left foot hit first base a microsecond before Astro pitcher Tony Sipp got there.
Sipp had just changed the dynamic the other direction by getting pinch hitter Cole Gillespie to pop up with the bases loaded, leaving Saunders to hit with a force at any base ending the inning.
Saunders’ inch was the difference between “inning over, no runs” and “two runs score.”
And that was the difference in the game.
And props to Roenis Elias, who had 11 swinging strikes out of 100 pitches, racking up 6 K and yielding only 1 ER.
- Hyper-detailed baseball-reference.com boxscore here.
- Jordan Pries had another interesting start for Tacoma (6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 K), and Carson Smith had an encouraging finish (1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K), but, in between, Stephen Pryor had another difficult outing (0.2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K; 2 HR).
- With Nick Franklin called up and Chris Taylor on the disabled list, Tacoma’s offense is suddenly pretty uninspiring. Jabari Blash has struggled with the transition (.159/.257/.286) and sat out Thursday.
- Matt Anderson has been climbing the ladder without much notice (41st-round draft picks with 6.51 ERAs don’t get much), but he had a brilliant start for AA Jackson Thursday: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. Alas, the Generals lost in the 12th.
- John Hicks, still a promising young catcher though he’s lost some traction of late, had three hits including his first home run.
- Our new favorite super-sleeper Aaron Barbosa: two hits, two walks and his 12th steal. He has 29 walks in 33 games, and one commenter called him the fastest player he’d ever seen on a baseball field.
- Tyler Smith added three hits in High Desert’s losing effort.