Cross-Check: Michael Saunders - the Inner Game of Tennis


=== Aggressiveness ===

You remember that in 2011, Saunders was forever getting caught in 0-1 and 0-2 counts.  For one long stretch, he was 0-2 in 40% of his at-bats, or something.

Pitchers knew that he was "in between," that is, swinging out in front of sliders and swinging way late on fastballs.  This comes from confusion and passivity.

Saunders' double was on an 0-0 pitch.  There were two men on base, and the pitcher wanted to get ahead in the count, and Saunders was ready for a hittable fastball.  He was.

Not only was he ready on 0-0, but he didn't need an 89 mistake out-and-over.  The pitch was 95 mph, low-away, and Saunders stayed with it.  That is outstanding state-of-mind.


In the 4th, Saunders did get behind 0-2, on a first-pitch slider and then a slider he swung through.  But guess what occurred next:  he worked a walk from there.


In the 2nd, Saunders got ahead 3-1, and then the pitcher surprised him with a 94 MPH fastball in a location he wasn't looking for.  Tardy on the pitch, he SNNNAAAPPPPED the bat around real quick and got the ball on the end of the bat, up the middle.  Groundout.  But nice quickness, too.


=== From the Bird's Own Mouth ===

Saunders went on the postgame show and said, quote, "With my long-lever swing, I need to be compact up there."  That's the term he used, long lever.  Huh.

Hence the 60-ounce bat:  try swinging a sledgehammer with a willowy flourish.  You'd have to be powerful and there wouldn't be much of a start or finish.  Short arc, lots of legs.  Which is precisely how Saunders swung the bat.


Another thing he said:  "I spent a lot of time on my mental game.  I was real passive last year and I decided if I'm going to go down, then go down swinging like a man."

An odd thing to say in an ad-lib TV interview.  Swing like a man, huh.

That wouldn't be the fix for every player, but you can see why it would be the right mantra for Saunders.  Face the pitcher and fight him like a man.


=== Dr's Prognosis ===

Okay, he's played 9 games, is on pace for 70 doubles and 20 homers, has an 0.50 EYE, is hitting .417 / .481 / .708 and on the field, he looks like it.

There are no guarantees in baseball.  There you go, your caveat, proving that we are Objective Journalists (TM) here at SSI.  :- )

But here we got a TV game, and our first look at The New Michael Saunders.  Our verdict:  the new Michael Saunders is new.  From the CF camera, he looks great to me.



Whether regarding his revised swing, his approach at the plate, his bunny-rabbit terror when stepping in against the hawks on the mound...
It's all gone.
He wiped the slate clean.  I said after seeing him for the first time this Spring that it looked like whatever sports psychologist he went to got him straightened out, and I stand by that.  He may have been his own sports psychologist, I dunno - but he admitted he spent a LOT of time working on his mental game this winter as much as his swing, and I admire that.
He also moved to Denver and Mike Bard, Josh's brother, became his swing coach.  I thought what he said about that was one of the most interesting things of that interview. Rough estimated quote: "I've have several hitting coaches trying to get me to make my swing compact, but you know how you can hear the same thing from two people but it just has to be said differently for you to get it? Mike helped me get SHORT TO THE BALL."
That's where he brought up long-levers as well, but it seems like his other hitting coaches made him more passive and told him (in his mind) to take the power out of his swing.  Compact.  Remove your leverage.  That's what it looked like in his sickly swing last year, and that's how Saunders felt about it.
Whereas Bard re-stated it as, "See all that power you have?  You don't need a long swing.  The levers will do it for you.  Get short to the ball, explode out the back of it, and it'll fly.  Be aggressive."
And that re-kindled his approach.  I liked seeing the fire of a competitor in his belly.  Because Saunders hasn't competed at the plate in years.  If he goes to Tacoma this year it looks like he's gonna destroy people.
He's definitely back on the radar as a player to watch, and if he keeps hitting like that, he's not locked into CF either.  He's been 100% aggressive at the plate without giving away at-bats.  He's exactly Wedge's kind of player.  Wedge's motto is, "If they give you a pitch you'd better not take it and hope the guy after you can drive in a run.  You do it."  Saunders has taken that to heart.  He looks great.
BTW, Catricala is looking like Matt Kemp at the plate.  How do you send Matt Kemp back to the minors?  He crushed a pulled double down the line that was foul by 6 inches, took a walk, fought two 95 mph pitches off for a bloop single and a hard-hit single the other way, he's shown his home run power in previous games...
He also gloved a couple of nice plays down there.  Look out for Vinnie.
And did you see Peguero take a walk AND hit a single the other way, two things that almost never happened last year?  He's still fast around the bases for a mountain with legs and he's got a good arm too.  His approach isn't perfect but it's improving.  I'm proud of him.
Felix might finally get some run support this year.  The kids look like the game has slowed down to their speed.


Got my first look at the "new" Saunders last night, like most of us. Me trying to analyze his swing would be like a beer hall bully commenting on Seal Team Six's execution of the Bin Laden raid.
But one thing is for certain. His attitude at the plate has been transformed. It's amazing what a little success will breed. The deer in the headlights has been replaced by a vicious grizzly intent on doing damage. I mean, I was really taken aback by the degree of aggressiveness bordering on swagger as he was settling into the box in his first at bat.
I suppose the permanence of the attitudinal transformation will be revealed when he endures the inevitable slump. But the comments on his swing mechanics make me think there's hope that he's really turned a corner. His pure athletic talent has always been undeniable.


"BTW, Catricala is looking like Matt Kemp at the plate.  How do you send Matt Kemp back to the minors?"
I don't know man.  Two singles near the RF line, and nearly another as he was robbed by a great play.  All this after he's bashed walls.
IF he goes down, he's up as soon as the arb year is secure. I can live with that for 20 games, maybe.
The Ryan tweak of his leg (as it appeared) may play into all of this. 
Watch for both Figgins AND Seager to get a SS start soon, if Ryan's issue isn't a one-day thing.
Saunders is whacking the the Figgins CF option is less likely.  Cat and Seager are whacking the the Figgins 3B option is less likely.
Where to play Figgins? The major dilemma of the spring. 

Jon's picture

I like Ackley and Smoak and I am sure I will love Catricala as well...but there is something special about the player who gets a taste of the MLB and essentially has to unlearn everything they have done up to that point to become effective. 
I feel Carp is like Saunders in that respect, to a lesser extent. 
It can't be a bad thing that we might have two outfielders who struggled, adjusted and are coming back TICKED and ready to murder pitchers for making them look silly the first time around.
I'm sure they will both have a 0-15 stretch which makes them doubt their game, but Carp in the second half of last year and Saunders so far in Spring Training have at least proved that they won't give up.


On his first at bat, the walk, the broadcast cut away for a fluffy gawker's interview with Felix. I wasn't able to tune in for his other at bats. Couldn't they have done one of those frame inserts for the interview?!

glmuskie's picture

It was, IIRC, only a couple games in to spring training when Zduriencik saw Saunders swing.  He promptly went up to Wedge and said, 'that is a good looking swing'.  And Wedge said, yep.  And Z said, 'no, that is a REALLY good looking swing'.
This is what makes Z great.  Before Saunders had been killing ST pitches, when he'd had  maybe a couple games that you could say were just lucky, Z had put his eyeballs on the player and said, whoa nelly.  We got something here.
Like everyone else, his caveat was, let's see if he can keep that in to the regular season.  But still.  Sure is nice to have someone evaluating our talent with that kind of casual acumen.


I was most impressed with his first single to right.  It came a couple of pitches after he completely ripped one into the left field corner....foul by an inch.  On the single that followed he was jammed but got enough of the barrel on it to hit a semi-liner down the RF line.
It looked like the pattern was to throw him heat inside and off the plate.  He murdered the mistake that was over the plate....and then fought off three tough pitches out to RF. I didn't see the walk.
If I was the pitcher I might have said, "Crap, is this guy man or beast!?"
Right now, that's a fair question.

glmuskie's picture

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the impression I got is that Saunders made the choice to go work with Bard - it wasn't a directive from the Mariners.  If so, good on him for taking his career by the thoat and doing the hard work.
Anyway if Condor starts killing it in ST, maybe the M's start using him more to help their hitters, perhaps ala Dr. Elliot.  Bard's already got a good rep, but turning Saunders from lost to found would boost his stock even more.


We get excited about Saunders, I've been waiting.  I almost wrote a similar article last night, but it got round to 3am and I called it quits with the idea of finishing it this morning, oh irony.
Anyway, my idea was finding a decent comparable player to what we hoped for in Saunders.  I figure there are 3 groups:
The talented scrubs that made good:
Brady Anderson (.619 OPS over first 1273 PA)
Mike Cameron (.691 OPS over first 945 PA)
The big platoon guys that strike out a lot
Grady Sizemore (Career R/L OPS:  .891/.693)
Curtis Granderson (Career R/L OPS:  .892/.695)
But all those guys lack something that Michael Saunders has, and that is that he's a giant (6'-4"/225lbs) of a center fielder.  Only 5 of the 328 players to play at least 200 games and at least half those in Center are (listed) A) 6'-3"+ and B) 215lbs+, and they're all current players.
Josh Hamilton
Matt Kemp
Adam Jones
Cameron Maybin
Carlos Gomez
Which is kind of a perfect illustration of the confusion that Saunders leaves us with, that's a quite a range of accomplishment.  But of those guys, and this is obviously very pie in the sky (sorry Sandy), but I feel like there are some significant similarities in swing between Saunders and Hamilton.  If anybody else that can read swings better wants to double check that, please do.


The new Saunders is new.  Looks WAY better.
His double was something the old Saunders didn't do; stay with a pitch and DRIVE it the other way.
I once thought his upside was as a dead pull-hitting 20-22 HR guy, .250 maybe.
I don't know what to think now.  He's certainly looked good this spring.
He deserves some CF starts.  Then let's see what he looks like.
But he does look better right now.
(It would have been hard to look worse, BTW)


At age 21 at West Tenn, Saunders put up .290/.375/.484
He walked in 10.4% of PAs (good), had an XBH or BB in 20.4% of PAs (excellent) and struck out in 22.8% of PAs (higher than you want).
Here's what another guy did at age 21: .301/.402/.470
Walked in 12.8% of PAs (very good), XBH or BB in 21.1% (excellent), struck out 20.0% (borderline).
Both showed XBH and BB ability and raw talent at 21, but weren't yet all-around hitters.
Both got rushed to the majors. Saunders because the Bavasi regime had no one else; the latter guy because he was a Rule 5 pick.
The latter guy flopped around for six entire seasons before "figuring it out" and converting his raw talent and batting eye into an actual effective baseball swing.
Here's the story of how Jose Bautista did it.
Looking at the raw talent shown by Saunders on his way up makes his "rebirth" considerably more believable.  He had a foundation, and the raw tools and skills, and that makes it much more likely that he's not just having a freakishly lucky spring.
But, no, I'm not expecting him to be a monster MVP candidate or anything (although I'm still steamed that I finally wrote him off this winter after years of patience, so maybe I should ... ). 

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