Blue Jays left field battle: A look at defensive abilities
As Blue Jays veteran Michael Saunders and the young Dalton Pompey enter the year in competition, their defensive value could be the eventual tipping point
Despite the best efforts of Superman in centre field this past season, defense still is not the sexy tool we use as a primary comparable between two players competing for a job. Given the potential that Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey break close to even on their offensive and base running tools, however, their gloves could make or break the Spring Training battle in left field.
The Blue Jays have made an organizational shift towards more defensively-minded players over the past 14 months, something that should continue as Tony LaCava and the supporting staff around Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro remain the same.
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Kevin Pillar, Ryan Goins and Justin Smoak are examples of this, but the Blue Jays have also taken on high-offense gloves in Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson. This isn’t a widespread coincidence, and with a pitching staff that does not rank towards the top of the league, it’s a strategy that fits this roster even better than most.
Looking at Pompey and Saunders, we primarily have a centre fielder with corner utility (Pompey) matched up against a strict corner outfielder in Saunders.
Saunders has seen over 2000 MLB innings in centre, close to 1000 of which came in 2013 with the Seattle Mariners. In that season, however, he posted a UZR/150 of -5.3 with a Range Runs Above Average of -2.5 and -13 Defensive Runs Saved. Chris Colabello he is not, but regardless, Saunders is better suited in left or right.
In left field, over 1361.1 innings, Saunders has +8 Defensive Runs Saved with a cumulative Range Runs Above Average of 5.5 and UZR/150 of 0.9.
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In right field, over a smaller sample size of 807.2 innings, his UZR/150 jumps to 20.7 while he’s displayed a much stronger range factor.
Essentially, Saunders brings above-average or better ability to the corner outfield positions with the ability to fill in at centre for a stretch without looking out of place. There is great value in that.
In Dalton Pompey, however, the Blue Jays could have the potential for an elite defensive tandem in left and centre field. Watch the ground that Pompey covers here in 2014 to help old (and new!) friend J.A. Happ.
Pompey’s sample size of 112.1 MLB innings in left isn’t nearly enough to extrapolate anything from, though across his 306.1 outfield innings in the Majors, he does own a UZR/150 of 4.1 to go along with a positive range factor and 20 Out Of Zone Plays.
In 2013, Pompey was awarded the Rawlings Gold Glove as the top defensive centre fielder in all of Minor League Baseball.
A fair assumption heading into February and March is that, if healthy, Saunders outperforms Pompey at the plate. The young switch-hitter does hold immense potential at the dish, especially if he can work the on-base tool, but Saunders has the clear edge in experience.
If Pompey is able to stay above water, though, and continue to hone his athleticism on the bases, his defensive potential could turn one of Toronto’s more glaring weaknesses through the bulk of 2015 into a premium-glove spot.