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Steve Pearce is exactly what the Rays offense needs

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Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays are closing in on a contract with 1B/OF Steve Pearce, though the details remain unknown as both player and team have pushed the formal signing out until next week, presumably to clear roster space.

Expected to fill a utility role, his signing should give some much needed life to the Rays offense whenever he is placed into the line up. A quick look at his Fangraphs page may not tell the full story of his potential to contribute, but here's what you might find on first glance:

Season G PA wOBA wRC+ BB% K% AVG OBP ISO HR BABIP WAR
2013 44 138 .345 115 10.9% 18.1% .261 .362 .160 4 .300 0.9
2014 102 383 .404 161 10.4% 19.8% .293 .373 .263 21 .322 4.9
2015 92 325 .308 91 7.1% 21.2% .218 .289 .204 15 .232 0.3

That 2014 looks amazing, but that 2015 looks disastrous. What's the deal?

We began a look into Pearce's story earlier today, and the section below illustrates just how much an injured oblique hampered his 2015 season:

After a poor start to his 2015 campaign, Pearce would eventually find himself on the disabled list with an oblique injury that caused him to miss six weeks. The chart below will show his improvement once returning from the disabled list and playing an everyday role.

PA BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Before DL 193 6.2% 23.3% .264 .227 .290 .392 83
After DL 132 8.3% 18.2% .186(!) .203 .288 .466 103

After returning from the disabled list Pearce showed much better plate discipline, and while his BABIP was exceptionally low, he was able to be an above average hitter leaning on his eight home runs and seven doubles to produce a .263 ISO.

For those calling to add a power option to the lineup Pearce could also be your man, as he's one season removed from 21 HR and still hit 15 HR in his "disappointing" 2015 campaign.

Despite an injury hampered start of the season and some apparent back luck upon his return, even at age 32 Pearce has had some impressive offensive spurts -- and remarkably, that applies to both handedness of pitcher.

Here is Pearce's offensive production broken down into his batting splits by handedness over the last three years:

Split PA BB% K% HR/FB% BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+
2013 vs RHP 44 10.0% 24.0% 13.3% .300 .250 .340 .409 108
2014 vs RHP 272 9.9% 23.2% 14.6% .331 .279 .360 .496 142
2015 vs RHP 201 7.0% 22.9% 17.7% .248 .231 .303 .462 107
2013 vs LHP 75 11.4% 14.8% 7.7% .300 .267 .375 .427 119
2014 vs LHP 111 11.7% 11.7% 23.7% .303 .327 .405 .704 208
2015 vs LHP 124 7.0% 18.5% 9.3% .209 .196 .266 .357 65

Pearce is coming off a particularly down year versus left-handed pitchers when compared to his career average .262/.343/.481 123 wRC+ line. With a bounce back he would be a very nice addition to the needed roster platoon, but that sells the story short.

Importantly, over the last three seasons, Pearce has produced at an above average level against right-handed pitchers.

With Jennings, Guyer, and Mahtook in the outfield there hasn't been anybody step up and show they can handle right-handed pitchers at this level, and Pearce can fill that role.

Adding a bat to the outfield mix that you don't need to platoon fills a real need, especially in case of injury.

Narrowing our focus to players most likely to be in contention for the Rays active roster, here's some context for how well Pearce has performed against RHP over the last three seasons (min 100 PA):

vs RHP (2013-2015) PA BB% K% OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
Steve Pearce 523 8.8% 23.1% .811 .217 .296 .355 125
Kevin Kiermaier 670 5.8% 16.6% .789 .194 .310 .340 121
James Loney 1201 7.4% 9.8% .762 .112 .318 .333 115
Brad Miller 908 9.6% 18.9% .756 .174 .292 .330 113
Logan Morrison 880 10.0% 14.7% .748 .179 .256 .325 109
Evan Longoria 1505 7.5% 21.5% .727 .167 .287 .317 104
Hank Conger 575 7.0% 23.1% .713 .164 .293 .313 101
Curt Casali 144 7.6% 30.6% .714 .227 .256 .309 98
Desmond Jennings 897 9.1% 19.2% .672 .126 .279 .301 93
Steven Souza 325 9.2% 35.1% .676 .162 .309 .299 91
Brandon Guyer 326 5.5% 15.6% .664 .099 .293 .298 91
Tim Beckham 112 7.1% 32.1% .676 .180 .279 .296 88
Logan Forsythe 759 8.0% 20.4% .654 .089 .300 .294 88
Rene Rivera 491 5.3% 25.3% .595 .123 .266 .262 66

These are limited plate appearances for Pearce -- in three seasons he tallied fewer opportunities than Kiermaier -- but it's still the strongest performance among our active Rays. This is quite remarkable, and makes you wonder why he isn't an every day player. Perhaps more on that soon.

Using the same criteria against southpaws (min 100 PA) he remains one of the best among the Rays options over the last three years:

vs LHP (2013-2015) PA BB% K% OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
Evan Longoria 558 11.6% 18.5% .913 .224 .340 .383 149
Desmond Jennings 355 10.4% 19.2% .837 .181 .342 .367 138
Brandon Guyer 353 6.5% 17.6% .814 .154 .330 .362 135
Steve Pearce 323 9.9% 15.2% .838 .235 .266 .362 129
Steven Souza 127 15.0% 29.1% .806 .229 .286 .353 127
Logan Forsythe 435 8.7% 18.6% .812 .224 .283 .348 126
Tim Beckham 119 4.2% 27.7% .733 .218 .289 .306 96
Rene Rivera 228 6.1% 23.7% .666 .152 .283 .290 86
James Loney 436 4.4% 16.7% .643 .076 .310 .285 82
Hank Conger 169 13.0% 28.4% .625 .128 .253 .284 79
Logan Morrison 329 6.4% 20.4% .600 .079 .291 .269 70
Brad Miller 335 5.4% 22.7% .574 .075 .290 .256 62
Kevin Kiermaier 229 3.5% 24.0% .585 .097 .294 .256 61

Of course, past performance is no guarantee for the future. Among those three seasons of Pearce, only one is remarkably strong, which is why we're taking the three-year average when talking retrospectively.

Now let's look forward.

Using the early projections from Clay Davenport (a co-founder of Baseball Prospectus), with a little bit of my reformatting, here is how the Rays roster shakes out overall (against both hands):

Davenport Projection PA BB% K% OPS ISO EqOBP WARP
Steven Souza 472 8.9% 26.9% .783 .198 .356 2.0
Steve Pearce 331 8.5% 19.3% .785 .195 .351 2.5
James Loney 498 7.0% 13.3% .722 .113 .351 0.8
Brad Miller 616 8.3% 19.6% .747 .187 .349 3.4
Evan Longoria 611 8.2% 21.4% .763 .205 .346 3.4
Desmond Jennings 494 7.9% 20.6% .729 .154 .346 2.4
Brandon Guyer 403 6.5% 16.9% .729 .167 .346 1.3
Logan Forsythe 524 7.8% 21.4% .728 .145 .342 1.6
Kevin Kiermaier 586 6.3% 18.1% .740 .165 .340 3.6
Logan Morrison 434 8.5% 16.8% .717 .129 .339 0.3
Curt Casali 32 9.4% 25.0% .717 .168 .333 0.1
Hank Conger 227 8.8% 25.1% .729 .169 .328 0.7
Tim Beckham 134 6.7% 26.1% .657 .143 .311 0.1
Rene Rivera 390 5.6% 23.8% .638 .113 .292 0.9

As an aside, the projection on Tim Beckham is not very strong. He's likely to make the opening day roster in a bench role, but if he doesn't hold his own through April, look out for a promotion of Taylor Motter. Using the same projections, Motter's line looks fairly close to Kiermaier's, which is a step up from what Beckham likely offers.

Overall, Steve Pearce appears to have the strongest numbers in the projection, right in between two guys who should also perform better than their 2015 selves: Steven Souza and James Loney. The trio was mired in injuries last season.

Poor health felled what should have been an impressive Rays roster last season, and accordingly, health may be the most important factor for this 2016 Rays team.

That, and Steve Pearce.