Looking Back, Moving Forward: Matt Joyce

By Peter M. Gordon

2011 was Matt Joyce‘s year. He hit .277 with a .347 on base percentage, 19 homers, 75 RBI and a .825 OPS and represented the Rays at the All-Star Game The Tampa native was only 26 that year and appeared on the brink of stardom. Instead, Joyce regressed in 2012 as his batting average dropped to .241, on base percentage to .341, home runs to 17, RBI to 59, and OPS to .769. Joyce and the Rays hoped he would rebound  in 2013. The Rays signed him to a $2.45 million contract and played him often, shifting him between right, left, and DH as they hoped to find some formula that worked. Instead, Joyce fell victim to yet another enigmatic season, putting his future in question.

Joyce started slowly in April, hitting .225 but with 5 home runs. He caught fire in May, batting .299 with a .396 on base average for the month as he began batting at the top of the Rays’ lineup consistently. Then in June, Joe Maddon put Joyce in the leadoff spot and Joyce justified his confidence by reaching the 14 homer mark, challenging Evan Longoria for the team lead. However, he stayed at that number for a month as his success was fleeting once again.

Joyce hit only .222 with no homers in July even as the Rays reeled off one of the best months in their history. Joyce’s playing time declined after Wil Myers joined the team, but Maddon tried to keep him fresh, giving him at-bats in left field and at DH (especially when Luke Scott was out with injuries) to keep him sharp. Joyce responded with a torrid August, hitting .350 with a .425 on base percentage and 3 home runs in 25 games. But Joyce’s season finished on a downer as slumped badly during the Rays’ stretch drive in September, hitting .089 with one home run for the month, and going hitless during the ALDS.

Joyce ended the season with the second highest home run total on the Rays, with 18, but his OPS declined the second straight year to .747, batting average fell to .235, and his RBI total of 47 was his lowest in three years. With Wil Myers set in right field and Desmond Jennings in center, the only spot available for Joyce is the lefty bat in a left field/DH platoon. If the Rays re-sign David DeJesus, one would think that would be DeJesus’ role, with Sam Fuld serving as a defensive replacement. Joyce earned $2.45 million in 2012, and will only get more expensive the second time through arbitration. Is Joyce worth bringing back?

Matt Joyce is not a completely lost cause. He hits right-handed pitching very well on the whole and can carry the time when he goes on one of his hot streaks. He’ll also be only be 29 in 2014 and is popular with the fans. But after a rough season, the Rays will probably decline to tender Joyce a contract to avoid arbitration. Maybe the Rays will try to bring back Joyce at a lower price, but you have to wonder after years of waiting for Joyce to find consistent performance whether the Rays have finally given up.