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X-Factor: Steve Pearce

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Photo courtesy Blue Jays on Twitter

Last month, I started to take a look at some players who might be under-the-radar contributors to the Blue Jays season. If all goes to plan, you know what you’re getting out of Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin. Even if that core group can stay healthy and produce as usual, you’re still going to need contributions from elsewhere in the line-up. And that’s where the group of x-factors comes in.

 

The first instalment looked at Dalton Pompey, and John Lott wrote about him, too, for The Athletic. ($) Pompey is part of the mix in left field, which at the moment appears to be the achilles heel of this Blue Jays order. And it’s a spot today’s focus might himself a part of.

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Photo courtesy: Blue Jays on Twitter

Steve Pearce was signed to a two-year free agent deal on December 5th. At the time, GM Ross Atkins acknowledged the deal made it “less probable” the club would be able to bring back Edwin Encarnacion. So Pearce, in combination with Kendrys Morales, will likely draw a great deal of ire from fans, and be the source of blame for Edwin’s parrot now flying in Cleveland.

 

However, as Andrew Stoeten wrote last week after the Yankees signed Chris Carter, Pearce isn’t such a bad fit. Sure, he’ll be 34 in April, and he’s had some injury troubles in recent years, and has mostly been a platoon player. But perhaps that’s all the Jays need him to be.

As it stands now, exactly seven weeks from Opening Day, Pearce’s role is likely to be playing first base against lefties to relieve Justin Smoak. The Jays also seem somewhat excited about his ability to play left field, and considering both of their current options at that position hit lefties better than righties, he may get his fair share of appearances out there, also.

The defensive metrics aren’t great, to be sure, but before fans start having nightmares about the re-incarnation of Chris Colabell0 in the outfield, it’s not quite that bad. In 49 innings in left field for Baltimore last year (small sample size alert), he posted a UZR/150 of -16.9. (Colabello’s in 365 outfield innings of the 2015 season was -44.8. For context, Kevin Pillar has a career 20.0 in that same metric. Bautista last year was -9.3, and -12.5 the year before.) So Pearce is probably pretty close to Bautista in terms of defence. Not a ton of range, and not much of an arm. Which, errr, isn’t great, especially for a team that needs to depend on good defence. But the hope is likely that the offensive production can help offset any defensive shortcomings. And perhaps they just realize Pillar can get to almost anything, so you don’t need your corner outfielders to be spectacular.

Anyway, since Pearce is most likely to get the bulk of his playing time against lefties while keeping Justin Smoak out of the lineup, I took a stab at breaking down their splits against some southpaws the Jays will face more often this year. I stuck to only left-handers in the A.L. East who both players have had at least one plate appearance against during their careers.

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So I also threw Chris Archer in at the end, because Pearce’s numbers against him pop. But as you can see, Pearce is the lefty-masher he’s been advertised to be. You have to like his chances of doing some damage against Price and Sale with the green monster looming at Fenway.

The BB/K ratio isn’t pretty for either guy, and you’d probably like a bit more pop from Pearce considering the sample size is over 100 plate appearances. But when he’s likely to be slotted sixth or seventh in a batting order behind Morales, Tulo and Martin, that’s something I think we can live with.

It’s no secret the lineup doesn’t quite have the same zing to it in the post-Edwin days, and I’m a believe in Morales. But it will be important to get results from the bottom third of the order again. That’s what made the Jays so devastatingly effective in 2015, and again when they were going right last year. Pearce is a big part of that. He at the very least needs to do his job against lefties for this club to have a chance in 2017. If he can chip against righties, and Smoak struggles (as many believe he will), that will be a pleasant bonus.

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