The Toronto Blue Jays off-season started slowly and picked up once the calendar turned to 2017. However, one of the most underrated moves the team made but also perhaps, one of the most underrated moves in all of baseball was the Blue Jays signing utility man Steve Pearce to a 2 year contract worth $12.5 million.
Steve Pearce started his career back in 2006 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he really got his career in high gear once he got to division rival Baltimore Orioles. Pearce played with Baltimore from 2013 to 2016 with a quick half season with the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
The veteran brings plenty of positional flexibility as a utility man. Make note of that word utility. I think there is a strong case to be made for Pearce being more than just that.
Pearce is often known for his ability to absolutely mash left handed pitching. Over his career, Pearce hits lefties to the following tune:
- .270/.353/.500/.853, 31 HR, 99 RBI, .366 wOBA, 130 wRC+
Pretty good numbers. However, break it down season by season going back to 2014 and it looks like this:
- 2014: .327/.405/.704/1.019, 9 HR, 18 RBI, .472 wOBA, 208 wRC+
- 2015: .196/.266/.357/.623, 4 HR, 17 RBI, .270 wOBA, 65 wRC+
- 2016: .317/.411/.622/1.032, 7 HR, 18 RBI, .428 wOBA, 176 wRC+
2015 was a bit of an outlier in regards to Pearce’s career and he was injured, so that can be largely discredited. 2014 and 2016 against left handed pitching are ridiculous seasons. The Orioles and Rays used Pearce to perfection. However, he isn’t exactly inept against right handers either.
- 2014: .279/.360/.496/.856, 12 HR, 31 RBI, .377 wOBA, 142 wRC+
- 2015: .231/.303/.462/.765, 11 HR, 23 RBI, .331 wOBA, 107 wRC+
- 2016: .275/.357/.434/.792, 6 HR, 17 RBI, .345 wOBA, 118 wRC+
It is easy to see that Pearce can not just handle left handed pitching, but he can hold his own quite well against right handed pitching as well. The current crop of competitors for the left field job includes Melvin Upton, Ezequiel Carrera, and to a lesser extent, Dalton Pompey. Both Upton and Carrera have splits that wouldn’t translate particularly well to being an everyday player, unlike Pearce.
One somewhat overlooked aspect of what Steve Pearce can bring to the table is his ability to play decent defense. While Pearce had a -3.6 dWAR in 2016, the only player in competition (not including Pompey) for the left field job that was in the positives was Carrera at 1.9. As recently as 2014, Pearce had a 1.5 dWAR, with time split between 2nd base, and left and right field. While those aren’t the greatest numbers to evaluate defense, it does show that Pearce isn’t a liability in the outfield.
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The ability for Pearce to play the corner outfield spots as well as 1st base and the occasional start at 2nd base is what attracted the Blue Jays to him, on top of his ability to hit left handers. However, early indications are that the Blue Jays will use him primarily in the outfield, and maybe even as the everyday guy in left.
Considering all of the left field options, Pearce is the most well rounded guy to be effective on an everyday basis. Many Blue Jays fans are hoping that Pearce would be the everyday guy at 1st base ahead of Justin Smoak. That doesn’t seem to be in the Blue Jays plans as of now. The plan is for Smoak to hopefully take the job and run with it leaving Pearce in the outfield.
I believe that based on Pearce’s ability to play defense and hit both left handers and right handers effectively, he will open the season as the everyday left fielder. There is a serious asterisk with that though. Pearce is coming off surgery on his arm in the off-season. If he is not ready to start the season in left, he will likely start as a bat off the bench with some 1st base duties when Smoak doesn’t play. That would mean Upton or Carrera would start as the everyday guy until Pearce is ready for outfield duties.
Once Pearce is ready to go full time, I would expect him to be an everyday guy in the outfield or even at 1st base if Smoak struggles. Pearce has proven over the past 3 seasons to be a good hitter against both lefties and righties. His ability to hit both has him miles above Upton, Carrera or Smoak in terms of being able to play everyday.
Steve Pearce will officially shed his title as a utility guy in 2017. He is ready for everyday duties assuming he is healthy and he could end up being one of the best value signings of the 2016 off-season.