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Steve Pearce Is More Than Just a Platoon Player

After a recent 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles see themselves in a tie for second place with Boston, one game behind the Toronto Blue Jays.

Since the All-Star break, the Orioles are 16-17, and since the trade deadline, the Birds are .500.

The trade for Wade Miley is eerily similar to those for Bud Norris and Scott Feldman in past seasons, and Miley has pitched like Wade Miley so far with the Orioles, which is an upgrade from the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright.

The trade for Steve Pearce has not worked out as planned so far. With the Orioles this season, Pearce has battled an elbow injury and has only played in five games, logging 16 plate appearances and two hits.

The Orioles let Pearce go to the Tampa Bay Rays on a one-year, $4.75 million contract last offseason after the then-32-year-old was virtually a replacement player in 92 games. In 2015, Pearce posted a .218/.288/.422 slash line, with a 91 wRC+ and a 0.3 WAR.

But that Steve Pearce isn’t the real Steve Pearce. The real Steve Pearce is the guy Dan Duquette just traded for, and closer the same player Pearce was in 2014.

Let’s take a look at truly how good Pearce was in 2014.

Albeit a small sample size—102 games and 383 plate appearances—Pearce was one of the best players in all of baseball. Pearce posted a 4.9 WAR, which is great even without considering he only played in about two-thirds of the games and that he was DFA’d in April by the Orioles before shortly resigning with the team.

Only two position players in baseball were more valuable in the time they played than Pearce: Troy Tulowitzki (aided by Coors Field) and Mike Trout (aided by being a stud). With all hitters with more than 300 plate appearances, Pearce was sixth in wRC+, fifth in wOBA and seventh in ISO, while posting a not-that-lucky .322 BABIP.

Defensively, Pearce posted career marks in nearly every metric, and it seems to be an anomaly.

He was tied for second in all of baseball in defensive runs saved at first base with nine in only 415 innings, whereas Yonder Alonso had the same total in about 200 more innings, and Adrian Gonzalez had 11 in three times the innings. In the outfield, Pearce saved nine runs in only 271 innings, which is a rate better than any other outfielder that season.

The 2016 Pearce looks much more like the 2014 Pearce than the 2015 Pearce.

With Tampa Bay this season, Pearce owned a .309/.388/.520 slash line, a 148 wRC+, a .386 wOBA and a 1.9 WAR in only 60 games and 232 plate appearances. The offensive numbers are similar to those in 2014, and he still kills left-handed pitching, something the Orioles need, prompting the trade for the versatile player.

Pearce has not played outfield for Tampa Bay, spending most of his time at second base and first base, posting a zero and negative two runs saved at those positions, respectively. He will rarely play second or first base, if at all, for the Orioles this season.

While his defense is not at the level it was in 2014 — and likely will never be again — it should be more influential to this team as it was to the Orioles in 2014.

In 2014, Pearce posted a very impressive nine DRS in only 271 innings in the outfield. Those runs saved, though, were not as important to that Orioles team.

The majority of the innings in left field were logged that season by David Lough and Nelson Cruz, and they totaled for nine runs saved. While Pearce’s glove certainly helped the Orioles, he was only a slight upgrade from the other left field options defensively.

It was Pearce’s bat in 2014 that the Orioles needed, mostly replacing the offense lost from slugger Chris Davis, who struggled for most of the season and was then suspended for the last 24 games of 2014 for PED use.

This Orioles team needs to improve its outfield defense, badly.

Mark Trumbo, Nolan Reimold, Hyun Soo Kim and Joey Rickard have played almost all of the innings in left and right field this season for the Orioles. Combined, they have lost Orioles pitchers 24 runs.

Pearce is unlikely to be the defensive outfielder he was in 2014, but if he can just be an average defender in left and right field, that is just as important to this Orioles team as being an elite defender on almost any other team.

It is unknown how much Steve Pearce will play moving forward. His offensive numbers are impressive against all pitchers, but even more so against left-handed pitchers. In a small sample size of 63 plate appearances against southpaws in 2016, Pearce is slashing .377/.476/.736. In his career against lefties, he owns a .273/.356/.504 slash line in 657 plate appearances.

Pigeonholing Pearce to only playing against lefties should not be in the Orioles’ plan, considering its dire need for competent defensive outfielders. Trumbo isn’t coming out of the lineup despite his bad defense, and neither is Kim. Pedro Alvarez’s hot streak will come to an end, and when it does, Pearce should be in the outfield almost every day, leaving the other corner outfield spot and DH duties to Kim and Trumbo, with the occasional Alvarez DH nod.