Saunders New Swing

Dave · March 15, 2012 at 10:39 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan wrote about Michael Saunders three doubles to left or left center. Then, last night, Saunders did this.

Spring Training performances are still worthless, but this isn’t really a performance thing – this is Saunders doing a thing he just couldn’t do before. This doesn’t mean he can do it in the regular season against pitchers who aren’t just getting their work in, but the old Michael Saunders was unable to go the other way with any kind of authority. Last night, he almost hit one out to left center by staying back on a 95 MPH fastball.

At this point, I’d say it’s pretty likely that Saunders plays the lion’s share of center field the first few weeks of the season. He won’t play out there every day, but it’s probably in the team’s best interests to see if he can keep doing this in the regular season. Even if there’s no obvious roster spot for him when Guti returns, having a potentially useful Michael Saunders around would give the team options, and this is a team that needs production from guys who can play the outfield.

Don’t go overboard with what this means, as lots of guys have looked great in March and reverted to pumpkins in April. But opposite field power from Michael Saunders? That’s new, and that’s encouraging.


24 Responses to “Saunders New Swing”

  1. Westside guy on March 15th, 2012 10:45 am

    I just can’t help pulling for Condor.

    Also, it would sure be nice if at least ONE of these young outfield guys would develop into a fairly complete player. Is it too much to ask for an outfielder who can hit reasonably well and not have a brick for a glove on defense?

  2. Klatz on March 15th, 2012 11:04 am

    The most impressive part to me was how effortless the swing was. He stayed balanced, didn’t reach for it.

  3. justinh on March 15th, 2012 11:05 am

    I was down in spring training for two days and spent a great deal of time watching Saunders. He looks like a completely different player at the dish. He is hitting off speed, pitches away, and as Dave pointed out, going the other way with authority.

    If Saunders can continue to carry this new approach into the regular season, it could be striking gold. I am never someone who gets excited about spring training performances, but when a guy changes his whole approach and it is working well, I don’t think it is an obbomination.

    Just imagine if Saunders can hit .265-15-65 with 400 at bats? I think this is a rather realistic expectation after seeing what he has been able to do this spring. The M’s would be adding another five tool guy whom they could platoon with Guti, play in right to give Ichiro a day off every week, and even utilize at DH.

    The door is not only wide open Condor, it has been taken off the hinges. Please step right in!

  4. MrZDevotee on March 15th, 2012 11:26 am

    That definitely IS a different swing from Saunders… You can see it in all his highlights. Short, compact, and just as he said himself, he appears to be simplifying his approach– just see the ball and “attack it”. And I think it must be showing a LOT of results, since Saunders says Chambliss is behind this new approach and has promised to keep him focused on maintaining it. That’s something you can visually SEE as different between Ackley and Ichiro, versus the rest of our lineup most nights… They hit the ball while it’s still IN the zone. They hit it at/over the plate. Even when Ichiro is attacking non-strikes, they are still in his “attack zone”… Whereas last season, especially with Peguero, Olivo and Saunders, you could see bad strikes, where their swings were attempting contact at pitches about to hit the dirt, or up at their inside shoulder… Over and over again. If they made contact with offspeed/breaking balls, it was either way in front of the plate, or way late and fouled off nearly out of the catcher’s mitt.

    This is a different swing by Saunders. He’s still and quiet up there. Waiting on the ball, and then firing into it. I had zero hope for Saunders going forward, based on his total lack of confidence in too many at bats last season. Now suddenly, it’s not just a new swing, it’s a new guy up there. He’s looking almost like a lankier, not quite as efficient/natural Ackley. (Any chance having an Ackley on the squad is a plus for guys still searching for a major league stroke? Not a bad example to follow… We could surely use a large supply of guys built like Peguero who bat like Ackley… Not something the ACTUAL Peguero is capable of, unfortunately)

    Anyways, it’s promising. Especially if he can somehow do the same thing somewhere OTHER than spring training (which remains to be seen).

  5. 9inningknowitall on March 15th, 2012 11:40 am

    It really is amazing to see how a smart hitting coach can impact a player like Saunders. Saunders has been one of my favorites for a few years and I have really hoped he could turn things around.

  6. maqman on March 15th, 2012 11:52 am

    It’s a really good thing for Michael and the M’s. The guy deserves every good thing that comes in his career, he’s worked for it.

  7. Westside guy on March 15th, 2012 11:52 am

    Given how many people concluded Saunders’ issues were in his head, I suspect the real telling point will be the first time he slumps. All players slump; it’s just a matter of how he manages to deal with it (or, conversely, if he lets it completely derail him).

  8. PackBob on March 15th, 2012 11:59 am

    Maybe just semantics, but I’d say it’s the stats that are worthless and performance is what the coaches are looking at. Saunders is performing differently than prior years by driving the ball the other way. The short sample size stats are peripheral, his better approach at the plate is meaningful.

    Peguero, on the other hand, has good stats but the approach hasn’t changed much. He is not performing as they would like, not adopting the changes they feel would make him a ML hitter. The impression I get is that they believe if Peguero could shorten his swing and make more contact, his natural power would take care of the rest.

    Both have good stats, but Saunders is performing in such a way that it could remain successful, while Peguero is not (but with hope still that he can change his approach).

  9. Steve Nelson on March 15th, 2012 12:29 pm

    It’s always seemed to me that that is the type of situation where spring training performance does matter. Despite all the rhetoric about guys fighting for jobs, that isn’t the reality. Before camp opens a team already has a read on a what a guy is and isn’t from what his performance has been under real game conditions in previous seasons. Whatever happens in a spring training setting shouldn’t alter that in any significant fashion – ST is a small set of games, played under practice or semi-practice conditions, against rosters that are loaded with veterans knocking off the rust or other teams scrubs, etc., etc.

    But where it can make a difference is where the “book” on a guy coming is if there is some element of a players game that he needs to hone or improve. Demonstrating better command of a specific pitch. Spring training can be a way to show that a specific element of a players game has been added or improved upon. And if that fits into what the player needs to show, that is when a player can play his way onto a roster in spring training.

    And it looks like Saunders is making that case this spring. That’s what makes Saunders performance this spring different from Mike Wilson of springs past. Wilson’s performances didn’t show the team anything they didn’t already know.

  10. greentunic on March 15th, 2012 12:30 pm

    I agree that Spring Training stats are pretty worthless, but performance? Performance is how well the player is playing. I’d say good or bad play are very important.

    Seeing the ball well and demonstrating an ability to square it up, or whipping in a dirty 12-6 curve obviously do mean something. Perhaps that’s what Dave meant anyway, but what’s the point of spring training auditions if the performances are worthless?

  11. MrZDevotee on March 15th, 2012 1:30 pm

    “what’s the point of spring training auditions if the performances are worthless?”

    I agree with what you were saying up to that, but yet would answer your above question as simply “timing”- and a chance to work on fine tuning things.

    I always look at Spring Training as maybe a test track for your favorite cars… It’s not an actual race, and it’s not approached like a race, but you’re certainly trying to put your cars through their paces to see how any tweaks and adjustments are going, and how hard you can push them in the corners before they get lose…

  12. Paul B on March 15th, 2012 1:31 pm

    Even when Guti comes back, and is able to play CF full time, there is still a roster spot open. On days when Montero catches, Carp can move to DH and Saunders can play left.

  13. Longgeorge1 on March 15th, 2012 2:30 pm

    Just get rid of Figgie! Even with the unlikely event that we wind up paying most of his salary and he hits .300 for Oakland. He is taking away a chance for one of our young prospects to become a young major league player. Same thing with Millwood although not with the same passion.

  14. TherzAlwaysHope on March 15th, 2012 2:32 pm

    I remember going to ST two years ago when the M’s were supposed to be contenders with the acquisition of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins. The two games I saw were painfully bad. I remember the rest of ST as being representative of those two games and that ST as being representative of the entire season. I remember looking at my son and saying, “It’s going to be a long season.”

    There is no science in this statement. Just hope. After all, ST is so cool because the team still hasn’t screwed up the season yet.

  15. marc w on March 15th, 2012 3:25 pm

    I’m with greentunic. We have a read on several players through their regular season stats, but it’s not at all clear that they’re the same players any more. Oliver Perez is perhaps the easy example, and Hong Chih Kuo may be another. It’s not clear that what Oliver Perez did in 2004 is at all relevant right now, and his performance (not his *results* but his performance) can tell us what he has left in the tank.

    As excited as I am for Saunders, I’m trying to remind myself how often we see this sort of thing. Brandon Wood’s got a brand-new swing and the famous bust might make the Rockies opening-day roster. If he’s got a completely different approach, that’s one thing, but he’s killed the ball in the spring before only to fall on his face during the season.
    How many times do we hear about a struggling player changing his stance, his hands or his trigger? They’re the natural complements to “best shape of his life” stories. That said, it’s getting tough to argue that Saunders is capable of things he just wasn’t last season.

  16. gwangung on March 15th, 2012 3:44 pm

    Well, I think we ARE seeing different performances AND different approaches by Saunders. Somewhat more aggressive and able to cover areas of the plate he hasn’t before, and that’s showing up in the batted balls to the opposite field, which we haven’t seen as much as before.

    There’s no guarantee that he’ll keep this up…but there’s no guarantee that he won’t. The way he’s performing DOES suggest the possibility of a lasting change, so it’s something to be optimistic about and to keep an eye on.

  17. MrZDevotee on March 15th, 2012 4:11 pm

    My only real “Spring Training” concern has to do with the fact that a LOT of our runs are being scored during the 2nd half of games… During, for lack of a better term, the “minor league” portion of the games.

    Not every game, sure… But I’m reminded of the other day where through 5 innings Ichiro had 2 hits, and nobody else had any. Then we score 5 runs in the 9th and win the game. Not sure what that tells us about this team, if anything, but I’m remaining open minded about what this team’s offense might truly become when regular season starts.

    (Carp worries me a bit at the moment too, but again, taken with a grain of “spring training” salt…)

    3/14 – 2 runs thru 5 innings
    3/13 – 0 runs thru 5 innings
    3/12 – 1 run thru 5 innings
    3/11 – 1 run thru 5 innings
    3/10 – 4 runs thru 5 innings
    3/9 – 3 runs thru 5 innings

    That’s 11 runs thru the first 5 innings of the past six games… Puts us a little over 3 runs per 9 innings, during the “starters” portion of the games.

  18. moocow on March 15th, 2012 4:58 pm

    Thought this was a relevant Saunders quote from before the games had even started:

    “The whole thing I was trying to do is create margin for error,” he said. “Not having to have a ball be placed on a tee for me with a certain pitch in a certain area with me being on time to hit it. I should be able to get beat and still be able to drive the ball to left, catch the ball out front and drive the ball to right and utilize my lower half. That is what the bands and the heavier bat have taught me.”

  19. rightwingrick on March 15th, 2012 5:09 pm

    Maybe the best news is that it’s not COMPLETELY new for Saunders. When he was coming up, he was able to hit with authority, and often hit with authority to the opposite field. But he got to the big time and his swing was waaay too long, resulting in attempts to get him to change his swing. Not bad in and of itself, but when Guti got ill, Saunders was forced into center field and had to work on his swing in real games at the highest level. His confidence plummeted, and he lost his plate aggressiveness. Then his mom died last year, with whom he was very close, and it appeared he was in depression, leading to an even more passive approach. In some ways he’s back to his old minor league self, more confident and aggressive, when he was considered a Mariner “top prospect” with a very bright future. Welcome back to the Condor. And it appears he may be better than ever.

  20. Auggeydog on March 15th, 2012 6:45 pm

    Paul B why if Saunders is hitting like this would you have Carp in LF over him? If he can continue to look like an MLB hitter he would be an everyday player and not sit behind Carp. Carp’s role on the team would diminish greatly. Saunders D+O > Carps O+D.

    I am not sure if he can keep it up, but I hope he does. Seems like a great kid, and we could use a real LF’er.

  21. vj on March 16th, 2012 2:43 am

    How has Casper Wells been doing?

  22. tylerv on March 16th, 2012 10:26 am

    next mike morse

  23. mrb on March 16th, 2012 12:27 pm

    My god are those spring training jerseys awful.

  24. dantheman on March 16th, 2012 7:04 pm

    I’m wondering what branch of analysis this falls under. If you start with the premise that “Spring training performances are …worthless…”, the fact that he “almost hit one out to left center” isn’t worthless?

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