Springer's bat is even better than you think

New Blue Jays OF ranks among best hitters of past two years

January 20th, 2021

It took a few months for the Blue Jays to land the big free agent many expected them to, but now they reportedly have their man in . Anyone who was paying attention last fall knew that Springer walked off the field after Game 7 of the American League Championship Series positioned as the very best outfielder in the free-agent market. And everyone knows Springer can mash, even more so when the calendar flips to October.

But when you think of Springer, do you think of him as a top-10 hitter across the Major Leagues? Well, if you haven’t yet, now is the time to start.

First, a quick note addressing what most of you are thinking about: the Astros sign-stealing scandal. It’s still not clear how much the infamous trash can banging actually helped Houston overall (Springer, in particular, actually seemed to fare worse with it in high-leverage situations), but the fact remains that the club cheated, and Springer was likely either an active participant or at least fully aware of the scheme. The Astros -- including Springer -- are still the 2017 World Series champions, and you’ve already made your conclusions about how to interpret that.

The Commissioner’s report concluded, however, that the Astros abandoned their sign-stealing system at some point during the 2018 season. So if one draws a line at the start of the ‘19 campaign, and assumes Springer has played on the level since then, his performance is elite.

Springer, since start of 2019: .284/.376/.576, 53 HR, 128 RBIs, 12.6 AB per HR

Seriously. It’s time to think of Springer as a top-10 hitter. Even when many of his teammates took a step back in the wake of their cheating revelations in 2020, Springer didn’t miss a beat. Look at the names surrounding him on the weighted runs created plus leaderboard across the past two seasons.

Highest wRC+ since start of 2019
Min. 500 PA (226 hitters)

  1. Mike Trout (LAA): 175
  2. Nelson Cruz (FA): 163
  3. Alex Bregman (HOU): 159
  4. Christian Yelich (MIL): 156
    5-T) Anthony Rendon (LAA): 155
    5-T) Juan Soto (WSH): 155

7) George Springer (FA): 153
8) Freddie Freeman (ATL): 152
9-T) Cody Bellinger (LAD): 149
9-T) Fernando Tatis Jr. (SD): 149
*MLB average = 100

Springer has never posted a wRC+ below 118, and that low point came amid the Astros’ 103-win season in 2018. He’s years removed from the undisciplined, high-strikeout swinger he was when he entered the Majors in 2014, actually finishing in the top 25% of qualified hitters in strikeout rate and in the top 50% of hitters in whiff-per-swing rate this year.

That means the current-day version of Springer gives himself more chances to do what he does best: crush the ball. Pairing the quality of Springer’s batted-ball contact (exit velocities and launch angles) with that above-average ability to avoid K’s via Statcast’s expected slugging metric, again places him among the 10 best hitters in the game. In fact, Springer’s .578 expected slugging since 2019 is almost identical to his actual .576 mark in that span.

Highest xSLG since start of 2019
Min. 500 PA

  1. Mike Trout (LAA): .657
  2. Nelson Cruz (FA): .613
  3. Juan Soto (WSH): .608
  4. Cody Bellinger (LAD): .606
  5. Freddie Freeman (ATL): .602
  6. Christian Yelich (MIL): .584
  7. Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL): .580

8-T) George Springer (HOU): .578
8-T) Bryce Harper (PHI): .578
10) Marcell Ozuna (FA): .577
*MLB average = .428

And, just to reinforce the point one more time, Springer is also top 10 in Statcast’s xwOBA metric, which rewards him for his slightly above-average walk rate on top of that power and contact.

Highest xwOBA since start of 2019
Min. 500 PA

  1. Mike Trout (LAA): .445
  2. Juan Soto (WSH): .422
  3. Cody Bellinger (LAD): .416
  4. Freddie Freeman (ATL): .413
  5. Christian Yelich (MIL): .409
  6. Anthony Rendon (LAA): .408
  7. Nelson Cruz (FA): .403
  8. Bryce Harper (PHI): .402

9) George Springer (HOU): .399
10-T) Mookie Betts (LAD): .397
10-T) Marcell Ozuna (FA): .397
*MLB average = .321

You’ll notice that fellow free agents Nelson Cruz and Marcell Ozuna also grace these lists, meaning that arguably three of MLB’s top 10 hitters from the past two years are available this winter. But Cruz and Ozuna are tied to what happens to the designated hitter in 2021, while Springer rated as a very solid (if not quite elite) outfield defender in '19, his last full-season sample. Springer's all-around game, along with how well he’s swung the bat lately, is why MLB.com senior data architect Tom Tango’s WARcel system projects him to have the second-highest WAR total of any of this year's free agents over the next three years.

Judge Springer all you’d like for what happened in 2017, but make sure you evaluate the complete picture. Few players in baseball have performed better since the Astros’ infamous methods reportedly came to an end. The Blue Jays' front office was certainly aware of that, which is why Springer has netted one of the biggest deals of the winter.