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.

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

12 Responses to “Michael Saunders’ Struggles with Outside Pitches”

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  1. ThundaPC says:

    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.

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  2. Leisure Suit Larry says:

    Well, he went 1-1 with the new swing last night! Baby steps!

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  3. The Ancient Mariner says:

    I would note, if Franklin Gutierrez’ stomach troubles continue to plague him, the team may well start with him on the DL and Saunders sharing time in CF/LF.

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    • CamraMaan says:

      Of course, in such a “desperate” situation, one could also argue that Saunders’ need for refinement on his swing is worth playing Langerhans in CF, and using someone like Greg Halman on the bench, who can at least play every OF spot if needed.

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      • The Ancient Mariner says:

        I’m sure they’d use Gabe Gross ahead of Greg Halman.

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      • CamraMaan says:

        True, but if you’re going to take a low AVG backup OF, you might as well take one who has some potential for power. Besides, if its only a temporary gig, it might be nice for Halman to get the nod as a backup so he can have a little more of a confidence boost for when he goes back to the minors. Frankly, I have zero interest in Gross doing anything for this club. As far as I’m concerned he’s more of a waste of space than anything. Halman isn’t far behind Gross in that respect, but he at least still holds a touch of potential because of his power. But either Gross or Halman would be ok, I really wouldn’t care either way. Its a temporary backup OF job….

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  4. VivaAyala says:

    Double and a dinger today, baby! Playoffs!

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    More and more I wonder why certain batters just “don’t swing” at pitches they know they can’t handle? Like Soriano and low and away pitches.

    Common sense would say “because that’s all pitcher’s would throw him”, but IMO that’s overestimating the control and command of a lot of pitchers.

    Not that everyone can be Jose Bautista, but it would seem that an equal problem with Saunders is that he’s not too effective on the pitches he “can handle”, at least not to counter his struggles on the ones he can’t.

    It would be interesting to see what batters fare best on pitcher’s pitches locations. Looking at Ted Williams’s chart, there are even areas that he struggled with.

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  6. eric says:

    I just read an article entitled “I Wish Dave Allen Was Never Born,” ouch.


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