Is Matt Joyce Running Out of Time With the Tampa Bay Rays?
Hi, everyone. My name is Thomas and I am the new guy. I am happy to be here. This is a great site and I hope to pull my weight. I want to thank Robbie, my editor, for helping me on this first article. I was born a Chicago Cubs fan but reformed. I have a beautiful girlfriend named Jennifer (Love you, baby) who took me to my first Rays game. I am a screenwriter by trade and I better stop talking because this intro is supposed to be short. Hope you like my first offering.
This season is make-or-break for Matt Joyce. Each of the past three seasons has seen disappointment and a decrease in play time, and it is time for him to prove his worth. With the emergence of Wil Myers and the Rays re-signing free agent David DeJesus, Joyce is caught in a numbers game and could see less time in the batter’s box as a result. Heading off the team could be the next step.
Joyce’s talent as a hitter cannot be denied. When he is going strong, he can be a go-to hitter, capable of doing a lot of damage. However, Joyce’s inconsistent offensive output frustrates everyone around the Rays unceasingly. Every season, his playing time and at-bats decrease as the year wears on, and he is relegated to occasional pinch hitter. Why does this happen to a player who has shown so much talent?
Looking at Joyce’s career numbers, a number of things begin to stand out. First and foremost are Joyce’s struggles against lefty pitchers. As a rookie for the Detroit Tigers in 2008, Joyce managed a solid .227/.393/.318 line in 28 plate appearances against same-side hurlers. He has not hit them since. In his career, Joyce has just a .192 average and a .592 OPS versus lefties compared to a .260 average and an .835 OPS against righties. Just 8 of Joyce’s 79 career homers have come against lefties, and his strikeout rate jumps from 18.9% against right-handers to 30.0% against southpaws. Joyce is a flawed player right from the start because of his inability to face lefties.
Digging deeper into the splits, we find that May is Joyce’s best month to the tune of a .315/.407/.603 line. Everyone remembers his 2011 season when he started out on fire, hitting .414 with a .759 slugging in May to help secure his first and only All-Star berth. Joyce hit 54 home runs from 2011 to 2013–16 came in May. Another 12 came in April. It is pretty evident Joyce is a hot starter. But then everything falls apart as the season wears on. Joyce has managed just a .661 OPS in June, seeing his slugging percentage drop nearly 300 points from where it was in May. Joyce does have a .787 career OPS in July–but he has not topped .660 in the month any of the last three years. In August, he has managed a .789 OPS, playing well every year but 2012, but then in September, he falls apart as badly as ever. Joyce’s career OPS in the month is .666, and it has gone down each of the last four years. In 2013, he hit a horrific .089 and Joe Maddon had no choice but to take him out of the lineup. It was just the latest example of Joyce wearing down when the Rays needed him most.
Watching Rays games, you can see Maddon losing his faith in his slugger as the season wears on. The case could be made that Joyce’s hope evaporates as well. More important then faith, however, could be Joyce’s conditioning. This offseason, Joyce added 20 pounds to his 6’2″, 205 frame as he hoped for a change. Did he do so because his conditioning was contributing to his late-season struggles? If it truly is, why didn’t Joyce correct it sooner?
What cannot be overlooked is that Matt Joyce was second on the Rays in home runs last season with 18. Just as significant, his strikeout and walk rates were both the best of any full season in his career. Do those numbers indicate that Joyce is trending in the right direction? If he is, then he has nothing to worry about. But if his struggles continue, several issues beside his baseball card stats will stand in his way. All three of the Rays’ starting outfielders are signed for at least the next three years, and that is not all. Brandon Guyer is out of options, meaning that this is his year to break onto the roster, and Kevin Kiermaier could arrive in the majors this season as well. Joyce is the best candidate for designated hitter of the bunch, at least when he is hitting. But when it comes down to a roster crunch, Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe are both players who bring a much bigger variety of abilities to the table. Take one look at the Rays’ roster, and it becomes evident that Joyce’s playing time in the field has all but disappeared, and his tenure with the team could be ending as well.
In this era, where performance-enhancing drugs have been taken out of the game, power hitters are a valuable commodity. Say what you want about Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria and Wil Myers are the only Rays with more power than him. However, his lack of consistency at the plate and below-average defensive capabilities severely limit his usefulness as a player. Matt Joyce has the talent to warrant more chances to prove himself. Next time, though, it may not come as a Tampa Bay Ray.