Jekyll, Hyde and Saunders


I did it. I added Michael Saunders to my fantasy team. He was sitting right there on the top of the free agent pool in my keeper league. That modest combination of power (14 HR projection per the conservative ZiPS) and speed (19 SB projection) in a shallow AL-only league stole my heart, and in an impulsive moment, I hit the “add” button.

I said some mean things about Michael Saunders just a month ago, but Saunders has attempted his mightiest to shut me up. In the last thirty days, Saunders slashed .316/.370/.490 with a .378 wOBA, and his efforts contributed a full win above replacement (per Fangraphs). Despite a suspicious .378 BABIP over that time, Saunders hit line drives at a sizzling 28% rate and struck out just 20.4% of the time—down from his season 28.7% clip up to May 14th.

Getting to the point, though, as much as I want to see him continue to mash, not a lot of underlying skills have improved.  To start the season, he was swinging at balls outside the zone 28.6% of the time. The last month? 30.5%. His contact rate in the zone was 87.6%. The last month? Uncannily, 87.6%. His swinging strike rate was 11.7%. The last month…11.4%. Pitchers are still throwing him curves about 10% of the time, and he’s still whiffing at about 15% of those.

Saunders has been Dr. Jekyll and then Mr. Hyde  during various stretches this season, but It’s easy to arbitrarily carve up a player’s season to find hot and cold streaks. March and April were good to Saunders, much of May was not, and now he’s tearing the cover off the ball in June. We remember the recent events and the hot streaks, but the overall body of work is more telling.

ZiPS–which weights recent production more heavily than past production–projects Saunders to hit .232/.305/.375, and perhaps that’s a more realistic expectation for a guy with a resume that includes 885 PAs of .217/.284/.347. In recent years, offense has been down, and for an outfielder with plus defensive skills, that’s valuable production.

And I’ll still take that power-speed combo on my fantasy team, thank you.