When we are thinking about upside, we often try to find it in the form of a prospect, who either has pedigree (Yoan Moncada) or is getting their first shot after a minor league breakout (Mitch Haniger) – the “shiny new toy.” We see gaudy statistics, read scouting reports and begin to dream on the possibilities of a breakout performer at a bottom dollar (or discounted, but not quite bottom dollar price). However, cheap upside is not limited to young players that we haven’t seen before or even young players at all, it can also be a veteran player in a great situation like Steve Pearce.
Not only does Pearce bring fairly immense upside, which I will address below, he also has versatility. In ten game formats, Pearce will be eligible at 1B, 2B and OF. This versatility helps add to Pearce’s upside in his new Toronto home. In Toronto, Pearce could see time in all over the field for a variety of reasons – left field is unsettled, Jose Bautista is bad defensively in right field and could DH with Morales playing 1B, at 2B where Devon Travis has been hurt for much of his career and is struggling to return from injury, and at 1B, which is currently being held down by Justin Smoak. Pearce can be a multi-faceted piece for both Toronto and fantasy owners.
The question becomes whether a 34 year old, part-time player can be healthy and productive enough to take advantage of these opportunities. With respect to production, we only need to look at what Pearce has done over the last three years. Between 2014 and 2016, if you reduce the stats to a 600 PA pace, Pearce would have hit 29 homers, 76 runs, 75 RBI with a .267/.347/.493 triple-slash. It’s an impressive line for a player that’s going for basically free in fantasy baseball circles (NFBC ADP: 398.68). His batted ball profile indicates that production is very much for real – Pearce has a pull heavy, flyball profile with a 33.1% Hard Contact rate over the last three years. In addition to being productive in his recent opportunities, it is also noteworthy that Pearce is heading to Toronto – a place that has seen other veteran right-handed power hitters either breakout or excel to new career heights (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson).
Despite his reputation as a short-side platoon bat, Pearce has not just mashed lefties over the last three seasons, but has also hit righties well. Over 680 PA against right-handed pitchers over the last three years, Pearce has hit .263/.343/.810 with a 9% BB% and 21% K%. That is a player, who should be playing everyday regardless of the pitcher’s handedness, and I think that Toronto has recognized this and intends to play Pearce nearly everyday when he is healthy.
I have many more reservations about Pearce’s health, but those need to be kept in perspective. The Blue Jays have eased him back off forearm surgery this spring. Although in theory, this could affect his power output, Toronto seems much more concerned with his ability to throw than swing the bat. His history suggests that Pearce will likely miss time this year due to this issue or some other. However, the injury downside is more than baked into his price at an ADP of nearly 400 and that risk does not mute the profit potential of a three-position eligible, 30 homer bat in a very good lineup.
Steve Pearce, welcome to the Villar Village!