We’ve all thought about it at some point this offseason. There’s no way that Steve Pearce can maintain the offensive performance that he put up last season, right? I mean, he came out of the blue and crushed the ball on his way to being the best hitter on the team. Earlier this offseason I wrote about why Steve Pearce’s flexibility is so important to the team, but I didn’t get into why I believe in him moving forward. That’s what today’s post is all about.
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A quick reminder for how out of character Pearce’s 2014 season was is probably in order. Last season Pearce hit .293/.373/.556 which helped him post a .404 wOBA. He was 61% better than the average MLB hitter, and ended up being worth more than four wins. Prior to 2014 though, Pearce had never even seen 190 plate appearances in a major league season. He had shown some flashes of promise, but was exposed in longer stints. Pearce’s career line of .255/.335/.433 is pretty good, but that’s buoyed by his excellent 2014 campaign. Needless to say, Pearce’s career as a journeyman exhibits the fact that he has shown some value, but not enough for clubs to find ways to keep him on their rosters for too long. All that has changed. So can Pearce keep it up? Well, the answer to that lies in his mechanical changes. Below are several GIFs that highlight mechanical changes for Pearce from his Pirate days to last season. Below the GIFs we’ll dig into some of the changes.
I reached out to Derek Florko, a sabermetrically inclined hitting coach to break down some of the changes in Pearce’s swing:
The major thing that sticks out to me is he looks like he tried to make everything as simple as possible over the past few years in terms of his style, he went from a leg kick and hand drop to a small toe tap, [and] he’s a little bit more narrow now and closed off. … While the style of his swing may have changed, to me the substance of the swing is very similar. While his new swing may be stripped down, he is still covering all the important aspects of the swing. It’s not like he is just trying to slap the ball around–still driving with the hips, he is still creating a good load and allowing the barrel to create bat speed behind him.
Pearce has always been a powerful guy, so it’s good to see that he hasn’t messed with components of his swing that help him generate power. What he has done is streamline and simplify his swing in an effort to make it more repeatable and consistent. There’s an excellent video clip, which I’ll include below, where Pearce says “I want to keep things as simple as possible”. He’s certainly done a lot to make that a reality in his swing, and the results speak for themselves. It’s not all sunshine and roses in Florko’s opinion though:
One thing I’m not a very big fan of that he has changed is closing off his front foot when he lands in terms of stepping in and staying closed. This can limit the rotation of a swing and as you can see in the GIF above (BAL-Side View) as he turns through and pops that foot open, that can be very tough on the knee.
Pearce notes in the video that he closed his stance because it helped him see the ball better, as he’s able to let the ball travel more before contact. It seems that Pearce is trading off a bit with his closed stance which can put stress on his body for a better ability to see the ball and react to the pitch.
In baseball it’s easy to see things that seem out of place and make gut reactions to whether or not they are sustainable. We see Pearce’s career as a utility player and make the determination that because of his past this breakout can’t be sustained. What we ignore when we do that though is new information. It’s incredibly relevant that Pearce has made a change to simplify his mechanics. A more efficient swing coupled with an ability to see the ball better sure sounds like a recipe for success to me.
The Steve Pearce of 2014 isn’t the Steve Pearce of yesteryear. No, this Steve Pearce is very different. He’s a powerful hitter that makes a lot of contact and has a strong eye at the plate. He’s a versatile defender that can play above average defense in at least three positions on the diamond. This Steve Pearce is, in my opinion, someone that can be relied on as the Orioles make another run at the playoffs in 2015. This new Steve Pearce… he’s for real.