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Could Travis Snider be this year's Steve Pearce?

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Steve Pearce had a breakout season last year. Could Travis Snider be primed to do the same thing?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Pearce had a great season last year. By any measure, he jumped out of the journeyman, replacement-level player group and turned in one of the best performances of the season and, if not for someone named Nelson Cruz, may have been the Most Valuable Oriole. Just take a look at these numbers (stats taken from Baseball Reference):


G

PA

HR

BA

OPS

bWAR

‘07-’13

290

847

17

.238

.694

0.6

2014

102

383

21

.293

.930

6.0

That's incredible. Fangraphs had an article near the end of last season that put into perspective just how unique Pearce's season was, and it comes down this: Of all 177 other players since 1947 who had 4+ WAR seasons at age 30 all of them were worth at least 1 fWAR in their careers prior to that. Pearce wasn't even close. So he certainly had an amazing season, but why? I think it comes down to two things: 1) He was lucky or 2) He was able to change something in the way he played the game that dramatically improved his performance. I suppose a third option could be a combination of options 1 and 2 and this is what most likely happened. But if he changed something that produced results, maybe it could happen again. After watching the first week of the season, I'm wondering if that person isn't Travis Snider.

Snider and Pearce don't have too much in common. Snider was a highly regarded prospect and a first round pick. Pearce went in the eighth round. Pearce is 31, Snider is 27. Snider bats left, Pearce bats right. But Pearce made his debut in 2007 while Snider debuted in 2008 and both have bounced around a little bit without finding much of a full-time role on a team (until Pearce last year that is). So why do I think Snider could be this year's Pearce?

To start, he showed a lot of improvement last year with the Pirates. Snider battled some nagging injuries throughout his career as well as some hitting slumps that caused to bounce between the minors and majors. And even when he was in the majors he had trouble getting a consistent role. But last season he did see a big improvement as a semi-regular player and pinch hitter (think 2014 Delmon Young, but with more PAs). So how did he do?


G

PA

HR

BA

OPS

bWAR

‘07-’13

403

1347

37

.241

.701

1.7

2014

140

359

13

.264

.776

2.1


So like Pearce, he beat his career BA, had a better HR/PA rate, and had a better WAR in one season than his entire career before that. But none of those numbers were multiplied to the same degree Pearce's were. Is there still room for improvement?

There's multiple reasons to think the answer is yes.

1. Through the first five games this season he was batting .400 with a 1.017 OPS. Small sample size, but that's a good start. This has been highlighted by a team high 5 walks. If he can continue that, he'll bring tremendous value to this team.

2. At Age 27, he may be at his peak.

3. There's another left-handed hitting Oriole who gives a lot of credit to Scott Coolbaugh, the new hitting coach. I'm interested to how the players talk about his coaching as the year goes on, similar to the way the pitchers talked a lot about Dave Wallace last year.

4. Snider is not stubborn about his swing and is constantly looking for ways to improve it.

5. Look at these numbers comparing Pearce's pre-breakout season to what I'm hoping is Snider's:

BA

OPS

HR/PA

Pearce ‘13

.261

.782

0.029

Snider ‘14

.264

.776

0.036

6. His strikeout percentage in 2014 was at a career low (18.7%).

7. He's playing in a much more favorable ballpark for lefty-hitters this year.

So there's a lot to like about Snider coming into this year. It's obviously impossible to tell how a guy is going to perform. His ZiPS projections aren't great, but of course Pearce's weren't last year either. And of course it could be that an injury pops up, he goes into another hitting slump, or other factors combine to make him another average player.

Of course, there's always the Duquette factor as well. Maybe Duquette traded for Snider because he had a need for a corner outfielder and figured Snider was the best he was going to do. But even if that's true, and Snider only lives up to his ZiPS projections, it was probably still a good trade, right? I think that its more likely Duquette bought low on someone he figured was due for a breakout (I'm sure his team has a better analytical argument for this then I do).

Someone's going to have to do better than expected this season if the Orioles are to succeed. Last year it was Steve Pearce. Maybe this year it will be Ubaldo Jimenez (of course that's a low bar). But right now, my money's on Travis Snider.