The Pittsburgh Pirates quest of finding an outfielder to start in left field has continued. After signing Daniel Nava to a minor league deal and trading for Bryce Brentz, the club signed Michael Saunders today.
The Pirates signed outfielder Michael Saunders to a minor league deal that includes an invite to spring training.
The 32-year-old outfielder will compete for a spot on the club, primarily in the open spot in left field. Saunders last offseason signed a one year deal worth $9 million with the Keystone state rival Philadelphia Phillies. Times were a bit different then, as Saunders was coming off of a season in which he was an All Star and hit .253/.338/.478 with a .348 wOBA and 117 wRC+, and he was worth 1.5 wins above replacement (WAR) by Fangraphs and 1.6 wins above a replacement player (WARP) by Baseball Prospectus’ measure.
This offseason though, Saunders is coming off a dismal year in which .202/.256/.344 with a .256 wOBA and 53 wRC+. Fangraphs had him at -0.7 wins above replacement and Baseball Prospectus had him at -0.4.
He’s a better hitter than what he was last year, as he has a slash of .232/.305/.397 with a .306 wOBA and 93 wRC+, which does make him a below average hitter. ZiPS for 2017 projects a .239/.307/.406 with a .305 wOBA and 87 wRC+ and a 0.1 WAR. PECOTA’s weighted means projection for Saunders is .245/.328/.23 with a .256 true average (TAv) and 0.3 WARP. PECOTA also offers player comparisons, and Saunders’ top comparison was 2010 Ryan Church, who started the season with the Pirates and hit .182/.240/.312 with the club before being dealt to Arizona.
His defensive metrics aren’t the strongest, posting a career -21 runs saved and a -5.9 ultimate zone rating (uzr) in 5839 career innings in the outfield.
Saunders is a low risk move with almost zero upside. His 90th percentile PECOTA projection is just 1.8 WARP, compared to Nava’s 0.9 WARP projection and 90th percentile 2.3 WARP. Brentz projects out at 0.2 WARP and a 90th percentile projection of 1.2 WARP, though that comes with just 186 projected plate appearances. Sum the upside, age, and defensive metrics, Saunders likely stands third of the trio competing for the corner outfield spot.