It seems like Michael Saunders has been tantalizing fantasy managers with his annual seven weeks of quality hitting for the better part of this century. Even for a Mariner fan, it’s surprising to look up and realize The Condor really only has two full seasons under his belt, and he is entering his age 27 season, having a birthday just three days ago. When Saunders is going good, he can be a handy fantasy player. The problem is, of course, all of the bad that he mixes in between those stretches.
Even in 2012, when there was some reason to be optimistic after his .247/.306/.432 line with 19 home runs and 21 stolen bases, Saunders had unbearable ups and downs. This has become the Saunders modus operandi in his brief major league career, unfortunately, as that trend carried over into 2013:
It seems like there are less circuitous routes to take to achieve league average, but as a fantasy owner, this is incredibly difficult to manage. It’s likely that there were many managers who picked Saunders up after his decent April only to have him serve as a black hole for two months. He was no doubt waiver fodder by July, and then he performed well above league average for the rest of the year. Maddening.
All told, Saunders hit .236/.323/.397 with 12 home runs and 13 stolen bases over 468 plate appearances. Not a player you want to build around. He did demonstrate a great eye in 2013 with an 11.5% walk rate but he continues to struggle against left handed pitching, and may be entering the 2014 season as a platoon player for the Seattle Mariners, depending on how their winter goes.
There’s a glimmer of hope in his batted ball and plate discipline numbers. He swung at only 22% of pitches outside the strike zone, which is among the likes of traditionally stingy Jose Bautista and Shin-Soo Choo. His swinging strike rate also fell to a career low 10.4%, not that he should be particularly proud of that figure. But Saunders also managed a career high line drive rate at 22%, which ain’t half bad. It seems like the pieces are at least laying around in the general vicinity of each other to be put together into one solid player.
The Steamer projection doesn’t see much in the way of improvement going forward: .231/.317/.383 with 17 home runs, 80 runs (!), and 18 stolen bases over 641 plate appearances. For context, nobody on the Mariner roster scored 80 runs in 2013, so this would be quite an achievement. And I’m not so sure I’d bank on 600+ plate appearances unless the Mariners come up completely empty in their search for outfielders this winter, but I suppose anything is possible.
There’s still some upside in Saunders that is difficult to shake, but until he demonstrates that he can be more of a consistent contributor, he doesn’t provide enough in the way of counting stats to weather the down times. The risk of the dreaded platoon makes him too risky to carry unless you’re in a league-specific or particularly deep league.
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