Fantasy Implications of Steve Pearce Joining the Toronto Blue Jays

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Welcome back, RotoBallers, to our ongoing series on MLB player outlooks and free agent signings. In case you missed them, you can see our earlier columns on various 2017 player outlooks including those who changed teams.

On December 5, the Blue Jays signed one of my favorite Orioles, Steve Pearce, to a two-year deal despite his ongoing recovery from flexor tendon surgery.

This article will discuss what to expect from Pearce as a Blue Jay in 2017.

Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.

 

2017 Fantasy Baseball Outlooks

The Injury History: When the Orioles traded for Steve Pearce at last year’s deadline, they were aware of his injury, although possibly without a complete picture of the severity. He was able to swing the bat, but the pain eventually became too bad to throw the ball from the outfield, and he ended up requiring flexor tendon surgery. As a result, it looked like teams would wait until later in the offseason to evaluate his health, but the Jays pounced early.

While it’s too early to determine his recovery timeline with any precision, optimistic projections have him being ready for spring training and possibly ready for the outfield by Opening Day. Because Steve Pearce has struggled to stay healthy, it would be unwise to assume everything will go according to plan. Even if he does come back quickly, will a limited spring affect his performance? Will he come back at less than full strength and be detrimentally affected? His draftability needs to be dinged significantly for injury concerns, with him holding more value in leagues with DL slots, deep benches, and daily lineups.

The Track Record: Pearce has always hit lefties. But, in 2014, he experienced a breakout. In 102 games, he hit .293/.373/.556 with 21 homers, 51 runs, 49 RBIs and 5 steals. Some projected him as the next breakout star for 2015, while others saw him as a one-year wonder. In 2015, he struggled, going .218/.289/.422. However, if you look closely at his 2015, his BABIP was 90 points lower, while his HR rate was similar and his K and BB rates were only slightly worse. Thus, it may have been only a partial surprise when he bounced back in 2016, hitting .288/.374/.492 with 13 homers, 35 runs and 35 RBIs in 85 games. In both 2014 and 2016, his overall numbers were still aided by an OPS against LHP at least .230 higher than vs RHP (1.109 vs .856 in 2014; 1.032 vs .792 in 2016); so, if he played everyday, his overall numbers would likely come down a touch as he sat versus more righties than lefties in 2014 and 2016.

How Often Will He Play? Between the injuries and the fact that Pearce came up as a platoon player, he has never played more than 102 games in a season.  Over the last five years, Pearce has played 85, 92, 102, 44, and 61 games. However, in 2014 and 2016 he began trending toward everyday playing time. If Pearce is healthy enough to play outfield from the outset, he will likely get more playing time than if he cannot. And if he hits like 2014 and 2016, he will eventually force his way into everyday playing time, health permitting. Nonetheless, predicting that this is the year he will finally play 150+ games would be a mistake given his history. Thus, he holds more value in leagues with deeper benches and daily lineups.

The Ballparks and Lineups: Pearce moving to Toronto should help his power output, as his home park will be +13% for righty homers as opposed to -7% in Tampa. His time in Baltimore, which was +11%, should provide a good comparison. Looking more deeply into his batted balls, Pearce would have hit five more homers in 2016 if all his games were played in Toronto, showing that the move should give him a boost. Pearce should also receive a lineup boost by going from a bottom 1/3 offense in 2016 to a top 1/3 offense; while the Jays downgraded from Edwin Encarnacion to Kendrys Morales and Michael Saunders signed with the Phillies, Toronto should still be better offensively than the Rays were in Pearce’s time there (26th in runs before the All-Star break).

Projection and Summary: Pearce’s track record suggests he will not play a full season of games, but that he will provide plenty of power when he does, as well as slaughtering left-handed pitching. He has shown the ability to hit for average at times and is a good run producer. If you have a deep bench and daily lineups, he is worth a flier. If not, I would leave him on the wire.


Check out RotoBaller's entire 2017 fantasy baseball waiver wire pickups and sleepers list, updated daily!