I’ve been a big Michael Saunders booster since way back when he was at High Desert and West Tennessee (now Jackson), and when he was on the 2008 Canadian Olympic team.
I still recall his Olympic bio blurb in which it said he played not just hockey (natch) but also basketball, soccer and lacrosse — in addition to baseball of course. A guy from Canada who grew up playing five sports! The opposite of Brad Miller and Nick Franklin playing baseball 24/7/365 in the Florida sunshine.
In other words, if there were ever a guy destined to be a “late bloomer” it was Saunders.
And will his biggest bloom come now that he’s back North of the Border?
Let’s take a look … using (natch) the Flowchart Profiler.
1. Does he consistently hit the ball hard in the air?
And he’s been getting better.
His first three years (two of which were partial), he had big problems making consistent solid contact. In 2010, no less than 9% of his batted balls were popups. Average is 3.8%. And his line-drive rate was quite low, while he was striking out a bazillion times.
But after he came back as the “Rubberband Man” in 2012, it’s been different. His popup rate has shrunk down — just 1.8% in 2014. And line drives have come up over 20%, which is average.
On our “Authoritative Launch Index” (ALI+ … which is “launched contact” as a percentage of batted balls, with home runs weighted as four times a regular fly ball), Saunders is at 103 for his career, but his last three seasons have been 111, 105 and 108. So he’s above-average, but still weighed down by his rough start. Looking at 2012-on, he sits at 108. Nicely, but not monstrously, above average.
2. Does he hit line drives for hits-in-play?
No and yes.
On our “Hits in Play Index” (HIPI+ … which is line drives minus popups as a percentage of batted balls), his career total is 94, but, again, the “late bloomer” effect kicks in.
Since those first three years, he’s at 101, 121, and 124.
Seems like we’re noticing a pattern here.
If we isolate Saunders’ last three seasons only: 113.
So he flipped from a one-dimensional hitter on batted balls to much more of an all-around hitter.
3. Does he have plate skills to draw walks and avoid strikeouts?
Yes on walks; no on strikeouts.
And, even if we isolate “good” Saunders (2012-on), the strikeouts still outweigh the value of the walks.
Even for a guy who can make good things happen when he makes contact, it’s hard to overcome a K% of 22-25% without huge power.
For his career, Saunders’ “plate skills composite” is 78. For 2012-on alone, it’s 85.
So the strikeouts keep him below-average on this count.
- Consistently hit the ball hard in the air? Yes.
- Line drives for hits-in-play? No (career) or Yes (2012-on).
- Plate skills? No.
So when we run Saunders through the Flowchart, he is either in the yes-no-no skill set (which puts him in our Third Tier) or the yes-yes-no skill set (which puts him in our Second Tier).
[By the way, there are a lot of good hitters in the Third Tier — they just need to have enough power to overcome their lack of all-around skills.]
So how has Saunders performed relative to the “normal distribution” for his skill set? Let’s find out.