Michael Saunders’ Struggles with Outside Pitches

At USSMariner, Dave Cameron posted a rundown of his projected Mariners opening day roster. He thinks that the Mariners should (and it appears the team will) start the season with Michael Saunders back down in AAA. Saunders, Cameron notes, has a problem with his swing that make it tough for him to hit the ball to left field, which makes it hard for him to deal with outside pitches. The Mariners are trying to rework Saunders’ swing to address the problem, and that would be best done down in AAA where he can get regular at-bats. I wanted to see if the pitchf/x data backed up Dave’s evaluation of Saunders’ problem.

The results have certainly not been pretty for Saunders over his 456 PAs in the bigs, with a wOBA of 0.281 and little of the power or average he hit for in the minors. His strikeout rate in the majors is over 30% and his contact rate is about 5% below average. Here is what his contact rate looks like by horizontal pitch location.

On inside and middle pitches he is only slightly below the average left-handed batter, but on the outside quarter of the plate his contact rate really falls off a cliff compared to the average. The difference¬†would be ok if he could trade those poor contact skills for power. But that isn’t the case:

Again, on inside pitches Saunders’ slugging rate is just slightly below the average for left-handed batters, but then on outside pitches it’s, again, much below average. So on outside pitches he makes contact at a low rate, and that contact is fairly weak.

The pitchf/x data¬†supports Dave’s assessment that Saunders has serious trouble dealing with outside pitches. Pitchers already throw farther away against left-handed batters than they do right-handed batters, so it’s going to be tough for Saunders unless he can make some progress with his reworked swing in AAA.

Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

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11 years ago

Nice to see a visual representation of Saunders’ issues.

Would be nice to have Michael Saunders as the M’s starting left fielder. Unfortunately, I keep hearing frequent problems with his swing that leaves him exposed and these graphs paint a pretty clear picture.

Hopefully his new swing works.