2017 Phillies Report Card: Michael Saunders

Before going into the 2016 offseason Pete Mackanin asked for the Phillies’ front office to get him a few bats to help out the young Phillies pitching staff. The two big spots of need were the two corner outfield positions. In 2016 Phillies right fielders hit .231/.291/.350 (70wRC+) and their left fielders hit .207/.278/.316 (59 wRC+). Early in the offseason the Phillies traded some spare parts for Howie Kendrick and declared him their opening day left fielder. With Yoenis Cespedes, Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Josh Reddick, and Jose Bautista coming with large salary numbers attached, the Phillies decided to step into the second tier and sign Toronto outfielder Michael Saunders.

Saunders has been a bit of a decisive player in his career. His talent always was larger than his output, and when combined with a habit of never being healthy, it left him as a bit of an enigma. In 2016, Saunders had been an All-star based on a first half where he hit .298/.372/.551, but a second half swoon (.178/.282/.357) had dragged his value down. Even with the swoon, Saunders had posted a 117 wRC+ with the Blue Jays over 140 games, which looked to be a massive upgrade for the Phillies. Even if Saunders didn’t quite reach the heights of his 2016 season, from the 2012 to 2016 Saunders had played in 482 games and put up a 110 wRC+. The Phillies also didn’t spend big on Saunders, giving a him a 1 year contract worth $8M with a $10.5M club option with a $1M buyout. This put the Phillies total commitments at $9M for what seemed like a massive offensive upgrade in right field.

Saunders got off to a cold start, hitting .244/.280/.359 in April. He struggled to walk and he struggled to make hard contact. In May, he stated to elevate the ball more, strike out less, walk more, and hit .209. Saunders started off June by going 1 for 17, before ending up on the bench in favor of Aaron Altherr starting more often.

On June 14, Matt Klentak at this to say about Michael Saunders

Michael Saunders is a true pro. The way he conducts himself is having an impact on the team, even when he’s not performing, even though he’s not on the field. The way he carries himself, the way he interacts with his teammates, Michael Saunders is a net positive in that area. That’s one of the reasons he was a player that we wanted to bring in to be around this young group.The Morning Call

Saunders appeared in two more games, going 2-5 with a double and a strikeout. On June 20th the Phillies designated Michael Saunders and Jeanmar Gomez for assignment.

In his 61 games for the Phillies, Saunders hit .205/.257/.360. His wRC+ of 56 was not enough to improve on the dismal performance of the previous year’s corner outfielders. He hit for his lowest power since 2011 (excluding his 9 games in 2015), and his worst walk rate since he was a rookie in 2009. He did strikeout at a lower rate than previous years, but he also hit the ball on the ground, had few liners, and popped the ball up a ton. He wasn’t even a good fielder to offset how horrible his bat was.

Grade: F

The process of bringing Saunders in was sound, however his complete ineptitude in all phases of the game helped bury the Phillies in the standing, and left Aaron Altherr sitting on the bench for close to a month longer than he should have been. Just in case you were worried it was just a Phillies thing, Saunders returned to the Blue Jays and hit .167/.250/.167 in 20 plate appearances in September.

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10 comments

  1. Mike Fassano

    October 12, 2017 06:30 AM

    I don’t think you’ll finding too many people who disagree with your grade. By the time that the Phillies signed Saunders, it was obvious that nobody else was interested. If they gave out an “Agent of the year award”, it would go to Saunders agent for getting 9 million for a couple months work.
    You’re my go-to guy on prospects, and I have a couple of questions. Was Eshelman overlooked on the MLB prospect list, or do they think that lowly of him? Do you expect Moniak to remain #1 on the next prospect list? Does Jaihlyn Ortiz crack the top 10? With Gowdy out for 2018, does that drop him off the list? Does Haseley pass Moniak? Who are your personal top ten prospects on the Phillies? Do you have a general idea of when it will updated next?

    • Eddie

      October 12, 2017 03:23 PM

      Eshelman is not high on anyone’s prospect list because he has a low ceiling. He is very likely to pitch in the majors and contribute, but very unlikely to be more than a #4 starter.

      Generally, most prospect writers have better things to do than play twenty questions with random fans on the internet. That’s what online chats and mailbag columns are for.

      And moreover, questions about lists and rankings are even more likely to be ignored than most. GMs don’t give a crap about lists and rankings. Scouts don’t give a crap about lists and rankings. And AFAICT prospect writers don’t give a crap about lists and rankings except to the extend that fans demand them and they have to keep them happy and pretend they are meaningful.

      • Mike Fassano

        October 12, 2017 04:08 PM

        Wow, I guess you told me. Good bye.

      • Romus

        October 13, 2017 09:25 AM

        Eshelman’s raw could equal Kyle Hendricks.
        On a hitting club, with plus defense, since Eshelman will probably be a high GB% guy, he could be a contributor

  2. Michael C Lorah

    October 12, 2017 07:01 AM

    I think, if anything, you may be overrating Saunders on-field contributions!

    Too bad. I wasn’t expecting miracles from him, but what we got was definitely a tremendous disappointment. Fortunately, the upside of Saunders’ 2017 showing is that we got to see over 400 plate appearances of Aaron Altherr.

    • Mike Fassano

      October 12, 2017 07:41 AM

      Is it possible that he was worse than Cedrick Hunter and Peter Bourjos?

      • Major Malfunction

        October 12, 2017 04:12 PM

        His worth might be sandwiched in between them and Delmon Young or Tony Gywnn, Jr. A glint of shine that turned out to be cubic zirconia.

  3. Romus

    October 12, 2017 08:36 AM

    Trying to reason with the fact that a 30-year old ball player is signed, coming off a poor second half prior season, and more so, with 60% of one of his knee cartilages gone and they expected a significant contribution?
    They took a gamble on Mike Saunders and lost…at least Howie K was a success with LHP Mills in return.

    • Matt Winkelman

      October 12, 2017 09:53 AM

      I don’t think they expected him to be an All-Star, and at $9M they aren’t even paying him to be even a 2 win player. However, in 2016 their RFers were so bad that a 1 WAR Saunders was a 3-4 win upgrade.

      • Gil

        October 13, 2017 09:57 PM

        Saunders stunk. Guy had no life anywhere. They’d been better off bringing up Nick Williams sooner, yet internal politics unsurprisingly interfered, and despite that he almost always swings at the first pitch, NW has proven he can hit. Whether he can continue making adjustments is another question. My eye and heart say he’s got a shot to be a good everyday corner outfielder. I see him as a LF. He’s got hitter’s hands, smarts, serious athleticism and competitiveness, and that’s what is best for that position. He deserves a shot for sure.

        They’d been better off this past season giving NW a shot to the tune of much less than $9 million regardless of how deep ownership’s pockets. Williams’s hit tool was and surely remains superior to Saunders as have seen, and we fans have reason to feel hopeful as we head into next season

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