Above you have the 2012 Michael Saunders spray chart.
Saunders has had one crippling issue when putting the ball in play since coming up to the big leagues: He doesn’t hit the ball to the opposite field. That is, before this season. Saunders, while not necessarily consistent in driving the ball to his former defensive territory, is beginning to put some “umph” behind the ball when putting the ball in play the other way. Just look the the at a few of those red/black dots back against the wall there. He’s finally getting it.
Our hopes for Saunders over the past few seasons have diminished. We had visions of a fringe All-Star talent, capable of locking down an everyday position in left field. The last few season however has been an extremely sobering experience to our Saunders intoxication. Instead of a somewhat flawed, extremely talented left fielder, we found instead an extremely flawed, somewhat talented left fielder. Saunders became an exhaustingly easy out. It didn’t take long for the league to figure him out: Offspeed pitch, outside part of the plate. Saunders couldn’t touch it.
Even now, he still struggles.
But there is a noticable difference. While before, Saunders was litterally incapable of hitting offspeed, outside pitchers, he has now begun to just struggle to hit them. The diffrence while slight, is still important. Before, Saunders would try to hug the plate and pull everything. Today, he is still an exceptionally pull-happy hitter but he has begun to take those outside pitches (offspeed and fastball alike) and push them the other way.
This adjustment may have very well have saved Saunders career. No, the expectations we once had for Saunders aren’t going to be rekindled through this adjustment, but he may have improved just enough to stick around as a fourth outfielder or even a platoon player.
Here we have Saunders yearly total. A surprising result considering what we know about the former top prospect. While we would expect to see a column of blue on the left hand side, we instead are seeing plenty of red. An oddity to be certain, but I’m sure as we delve deeper into this, it will begin to make sense.
Here we have Saunders against the changeup and here we see where Saunders begins to struggle. He has done decently enough at the low to mid away offerings, but on pitches outside the zone he has swung an awful lot. On those pitches out of the zone, Saunders is hitting a measly .143. Unless you happen to be Vladimir Guerrero in his prime, chasing pitches outside the zone is hardly ever in the hitters favor.
Here we battle the mighty Uncle Charlie, baseball’s oldest bendy thing. Saunders hasn’t seen many pitches in the zone, so the sample is too small to extract any significant data. But the trend remains the same, chasing pitches outside the zone is only going to hurt his ability to hurt the baseball.
The slider, preferred weapon of many of the dominant 90′s era pitchers. Saunders has experienced the most trouble against this weapon. He has yet to record a base hit off the slider on the outer half of the plate this season. He knows how to hit it as evidence by the red in the middle there, he is just going to have to figure out how to wreck that outside offering.
So really what does any of this mean. Saunders is punishing most of the offerings inside the zone. He is hovering right around his career average with regards to swinging at pitches outside the zone at 28.4%. However, his outside the zone contact is slightly below his career average of 50%. Plain and simple, Saunders cannot continue to swing at pitches outside the zone and not make decent contact. The league average for swings outside the zone is strikingly similar to Saunders, yet the league is making contact at 67.3 %, 17% better than our optimistic left fielder. Saunders can work with the skill set he currently posses, but if he wants to take it to the next level after learning to drive the ball to the opposite field, he is going to have to stop creating his own outs.