MLB Rundown: Michael Saunders Soars In Toronto

Jun 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Michael Saunders (21) reacts after hitting a home run during the fourth inning in a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. The Toronto Blue Jays won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Michael Saunders (21) reacts after hitting a home run during the fourth inning in a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. The Toronto Blue Jays won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

This week’s MLB Rundown takes a look at Michael Saunders’ resurgence in Toronto and the powerful effect Coors Field has on certain batters. Also, we’ll take a look at some interesting stats and facts from around the league.

Michael Saunders

Before the start of the 2015 season, the Toronto Blue Jays brought Michael Saunders in to bring some stability to their left field situation. After injuring his knee during Spring Training, Saunders’ 2015 derailed in grand fashion. He totaled just 36 plate appearances and was essentially a non-factor in the Blue Jays’ 2015 playoff run.

Consequently, he entered the 2016 season as no sure bet to see regular at-bats, let alone secure a starting outfield spot. Saunders has let his health and more importantly his bat do all the talking through the first 75 games this year. He’s slashing .304/.381/.586 with 15 home runs and 32 RBI. Remember, this is a career .239 hitter who’s averaging 15 HR over 162 games, while playing at least 100 games just three times over his seven-year career.

What’s led to his career season so far? Well, he’s finally hitting lefties, something he’s struggled with in years past. Coming into 2016, Saunders was batting just .226 vs left-handers with a 28 percent strikeout rate. This year he’s improved those numbers to the tune of a .300 average against lefties, while trimming his K-rate to 24.6 percent. His power stroke has improved against left-handers also, as six of his 15 home runs have come against southpaws.

Perhaps the biggest improvement has come from Saunders and his adjusted approach at the plate. Saunders has always been considered a free swinger, chasing balls out of the zone on a regular basis. Predictably, his contact percentage suffered. This year, he’s taking a more patient point of view in the box and he’s swinging less frequently than at any point in his career.

For some players, seeing more pitches works against them during most at-bats, as it means facing more two-strike counts and chasing a pitch they might not swing at normally. Saunders, however, has not suffered such a fate, since pitchers seem to be feeding him less strikes to swing at due to the elite control he’s shown over the strike zone. Over his career, opposing pitchers have thrown just under 50 percent of their pitches in the strike zone when facing Saunders. This season that number has dropped to 45 percent.

Here’s a look at his charted plate discipline courtesy of Fangraphs:


The result of the improved numbers this year has resulted in a .345/.460/.640 slash line when ahead in the count. The reason he’s finding himself ahead in the count so often is likely due to the high number of hitters’ counts he’s encountering. Again, all due to his newfound patience and approach. We should note that Saunders has indicated that he’s also moved his hands back further in his swing, thus shortening the load sequence, which could explain his improvement in his spray chart and power to all fields.

Regardless of whatever item you’d like to isolate in his resurgence, we’re looking at a player in the middle of a breakout campaign. One in which he’s hitting the ball harder than ever and to all fields. Most importantly, he’s limiting his swing-and-misses better than he ever has and as indicated above, his health has fully cooperated this season. All of those components working together have helped Saunders become Toronto’s most reliable hitter in 2016.

D.J. LeMahieu

We’d be remiss this week if we didn’t take a few words to talk about the odd, yet amazing home/road splits D.J. LeMahieu has produced this year. First, let’s state the obvious: Coors Field is an amazing place to hit. When researching Park Factors, Coors Field routinely surfaces as the best park to hit for both right- and left-handers. According to Baseball Prospectus, Coors is also 15 percent above league average when it comes to Run Factors as well. Here’s a very basic look at his splits for 2016:














So, after you’ve digested those numbers, here’s what we can take away… LeMahieu has been awful away from Coors Field. Thing is, this isn’t anything new. During the 2015 campaign, he posted a .796 OPS at home and a .694 OPS away from Coors. In 2014 it was even more drastic as he put up a .780/.536 OPS split.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Honestly I have no idea where I’m going with this. Coors Field is what it is. It remains a hitter’s dreamland and a pitcher’s graveyard. The drastic difference in the numbers just caught my eye and made me wonder: If LeMahieu played for any other club but the Rockies, would he even be on the 25-man roster? That’s a much deeper conversation for another day.

Around the league:

Adrian Gonzalez has continued to flash his ability to hit for average (.272) and get on base (.348 OBP), but his lack of power production has been mystifying. Sure, he’s 34 years-old, but a .114 ISO and just six home runs 75 games into the season is cause for concern…..Adam Duvall‘s 25.6 HR/FB rate ranks fourth-highest among qualified hitters. It’s been nothing short of amazing to see what he’s done considering his average exit velocity is 88.8 MPH. That ranks in the bottom third of the league, among the likes of Chris Owings and Freddy Galvis.

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For as great as Trevor Story has been he owns an unsightly 33.6 percent strikeout rate and a pedestrian 6.7 percent walk rate…..Zack Greinke has come a long way since his horrid month of April where he saw his ERA balloon to 5.64. He’s currently on a seven start win streak and he’s lowered his ERA to 3.54 over that stretch. The recent success can be attributed to his impeccable control – he’s produced a sterling 1.68 BB/9 along with a 4.47 K/BB ratio…..Salvador Perez owns a .509 BABIP over the 30 days…..Joey Votto is in the midst of his most disappointing season as a major leaguer. His 25.1 percent strikeout rate, 70 percent contact rate and .247 average all qualify as career lows.

Aledmys Diaz had a fantastic April, slashing .423/.453/.732. Since then he’s played to a .251/.314/.371 line, including his June triple slash of .210/.315/.274…..The Pirates are allowing 5.7 runs per game since losing Francisco Cervelli to a broken left hamate…..Trevor Rosenthal currently owns a 7.88 BB/9. That’s the highest mark among all pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched. The walks have also affected his peripherals: Rosenthal has a 14.40 ERA over his last eight appearances.

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A.J. Ramos (23), Mark Melancon (20) and Francisco Rodriguez (20) have all saved at least 20 games this season without recording a win…..Jose Abreu has tallied 10 home runs thus far in 2016 and just one of those long balls have left the yard via right field. That’s after hitting 11 opposite field bombs during the 2015 season…..Somehow, some way Doug Fister has pitched to a 3.26 ERA this year. Don’t be fooled into thinking he’s reinvented himself as a dependable starter. His ridiculously low .254 BABIP and absurd 82% Left On Base mark are two of the biggest factors driving this mirage.