Devon has been talking all about how the Rays need to get one more big bat to be a legitimate championship contender. The Rays have been looking into tons of different trades and signings, but so far they’ve done nothing to improve their lineup. But what if that big bat they so desperately need was already on the roster?
For 30 games, Matt Joyce was the best player in baseball. He was downright unstoppable- pitchers simply could not get him out. He was the MLB Player of the Month for May, hitting .414 with 5 doubles, 2 triples, 7 homers, 21 RBI, a .470 OBP, and a ridiculous .759 SLG. He was leading the major leagues in batting at .370, and his 9 homers, 30 RBI, .430 OBP, and .636 SLG weren’t too shabby either. Rays fans were dreaming of Joyce becoming a force in the middle of the Rays lineup for years to come.
Matt Joyce has always had some potential. Back in 2008, Baseball America ranked Matt Joyce as the Tigers’ 7th-best prospect, praising his smooth stroke as a lefty batter and his nice power while criticizing his amount of strikeouts and how he failed to use his solid-average speed on the basepaths. In 2011, Joyce showed off all of his talent. Overall on the season, he posted a .277/.347/.478 line with 32 doubles, 2 triples, 19 homers, and 75 RBI. His used his nice swing to produce a 21% line drive percentage, well above the league average of 18%, and tenth in the American League among players with at least 500 plate appearances, and 30th in baseball. He hit 19 home runs in 522 plate appearances, which comes out to 22 home runs in 600 plate appearances compared to the league average of 15. He did still strike out a little bit too much, 20.3% of his plate appearance compared to the league average of 18.6%, but his great power certainly made up for it. He was 17th in the American League in percentage of plate appearances that ended in an extra-base hit, and 19th in percentage of hits for extra-bases. And Joyce made every once of his speed count. He swiped 13 bases in 14 tries and took an extra-base (going 1st to 3rd or 1st to home on a double) 61% of his times on base, considerably above the league average of 41% and even the Rays team average of 43%. Can Joyce get any better?
It seems pretty suspicious that Joyce had such a higher line drive percentage than the league average yet hit just .277 compared to the league average of .258. Well, some of that has to do with the fact that Joyce struck out slightly too much. But not enough. His BAbip (batting average on balls in play) was .317 compared to the league average of .294. If you calculate BAbip based off of that LD%, it comes out to .343, quite a bit higher. But when we plug in groundballs and flyballs as well, Joyce’s neutralized BAbip comes out to just .299. As it turns out, Matt Joyce was a flyball hitter in 2011, hitting 41.9% of his batted balls for flyballs compared to the league average of 36.5%. Just based on that, it would seem like Joyce’s average was actually higher than he it should have been since his neutralized BAbip was .299 compared to his true BAbip of .317. But that’s not the whole picture. Joyce’s HR/FB (percentage of home runs among flyballs to the outfield) was 9.8% in 2011 compared to the league average of 7.7%. But his HR/FB in 575 plate appearances prior tot his season was 12.5%. Why was their a nearly 3% disparity? Well, Joyce cut down his swing in 2011, leading to a higher line drive percentage, but also preventing him from using all of his power. In 2012, something Joyce could improve on is pulling out his full power swing in the proper situations, getting his HR/FB up and making all of his stats better.
But the bigger question for Joyce is his platoon split. He posted a .292/.361/.505 line against righties compared to just a .217/.280/.317 line against lefties. But interestingly, Joyce’s BAbip against righties and lefties were relatively similar, .322 and .293. That means that Joyce was hitting the ball reasonably hard against lefties as well as righties, a good sign. Joyce’s main problem was strikeouts- he struck out a ridiculous 30.7% of his plate appearances against lefties compared to just 17.8% against righties. That major difference led to Joyce receiving just 101 PA against lefties. But after Joyce hit just .080 against lefties in 2010 (albeit in 28 plate appearances), it was progress. When Joyce got bat on ball against lefties in 2011, he made some decent contact. But the problem was that he kept striking out. If Joyce’s problems with lefties could somehow be fixed, he would be a much more complete player and maybe that big bat in the middle of the lineup. But unless the Rays’ staff can figure out how to make some adjustment that completely changes how Joyce does against lefties (a la Curtis Granderson), that’s pretty unlikely to happen.
Matt Joyce has the ability to be a middle-of-the-order type hitter and a good one in the Rays lineup. But it’s questionable whether that will actually materialize. Even if it were to happen, the Rays would still be depending on rookies Brandon Guyer and Russ Canzler for production if they don’t sign or trade for somebody else. The Rays need all the help they can get in their lineup. Another step forward from Joyce would be a big help. But the bottom line is that even if that were to happen, the Rays need to acquire another middle-of-the-order presence if they want the kind of lineup that will be an asset, not a weakness, for them as they hope to bring World Series title number one home to St. Petersburg.