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.
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.