The one word that best describes the career of Joe Saunders is solid. He’s an eight-year MLB veteran who has an average career stat line, but has always given his team a chance to win ballgames. In his glory days with the Los Angeles Angels, he won 33 games over two seasons, a stretch in which almost every number he posted was completely average. He has never struck out more than 114 batters in a season, allows 1.38 base runners per inning and has a career ERA of 4.21. The fact that he averages 6.13 innings per start supports the claim that for all intents and purposes, Saunders’ career is the epitome of a borderline quality start.
In a career defined by solid mediocrity, Saunders is having himself an anomaly of a season so far in 2013. Quite simply, he is a Cy Young candidate when he pitches at Safeco Field, but on the road he couldn’t buy a win even with a more lucrative contract than Albert Pujols’.
In Seattle, Saunders is 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA and is averaging over seven innings per start. His WHIP is an absurdly low 0.87 and he has allowed just three earned runs in 28 2/3 innings pitched. Essentially, when the Mariner Moose is in the house, Saunders is untouchable.
And then he gets on an airplane.
For every eye-popping figure in Saunders’ home line, there is a perfectly negatively correlated number in his road stats. He’s 0-4 with an 11.25 ERA and a 2.50 WHIP. He’s allowed six home runs in five starts and 30 earned runs in 24 innings pitched. Perhaps most unbelievable of all is that batters are hitting .423 off of him when he’s not in the Emerald City.
So why, in an otherwise painfully average and normal career, is Saunders producing such a skewed split? He has faced three teams twice (once at home and once on the road each vs. Texas, Oakland and Houston), so the argument that he has faced better teams on the road than at home doesn’t add up. Statistically, more hits come on ground balls than on fly balls, so it makes sense that his ground out/air out ratio is 1.90 on the road and a much more manageable 1.62 at home. Saunders has had control issues on the road as well, with 13 walks in 24 innings compared to just seven walks (one intentional) in 28 2/3 at home.
The sample size is relatively small and it’s tough to tell if Saunders will continue to post such staggering differences based on location consistently for the rest of the season. For now, maybe the M’s should pay the Moose overtime to travel and sit behind the plate when Saunders takes the hill in opposing ballparks. Or better yet, Seattle could just start wearing its home whites whenever he pitches and hope Saunders feels right at home.
Evan O'Kelly is on Twitter. Follow him at @evo5giants