Help Wanted: Is Matt Joyce Ready to Answer the Rays Call? | The Process Report

Help Wanted: Is Matt Joyce Ready to Answer the Rays Call?

The sky has fallen. Carl Crawford has taken his golden glove and silver slugging bat to Boston. Carlos Pena and his franchise leading 144 home runs are now property of the Chicago Cubs. Once again, the Tampa Bay Rays are just a farm system for the big revenue teams in baseball.

This is a popular narrative around the Bay Area right now. Who will help replace Carlos Pena’s power? Where will we make up for the 60 extra-base hits lost from Crawford? Who will join Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton in the middle of the Rays line up? Who, you ask? Matt Joyce.

For the third straight offseason, Joyce is an unknown commodity heading into the regular season. Acquired in late 2008, the outfielder spent most of 2009 with the Durham Bulls as the Rays employed the Gabe-of-the-day platoon in right field. After Gabe Gross’ exit at the end of the season, Joyce was poised to be the team’s semi-everyday right fielder in 2010.

Those plans were derailed when Joyce suffered an arm injury in the spring that delayed his 2010 big league debut until late June. Now, Joyce stands a chance to be one of the key players in the Rays 2011 lineup.

Although he has just roughly one season of major league experience (575 plate appearances), Joyce has been quite productive in his short time. His .243 batting average may draw scoffs from casual observers, but his career .344 on-base percentage and .486 slugging percentage are above-average. Despite his average, his has maintained a solid OBP thanks to a keen batting eye. He has walked in 12.9% of his career at-bats including over 15% a season ago.

In addition to his above-average pitch recognition, Joyce has some real power in his bat. On top of a career slugging percentage near .500, his isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average to strip away singles) is a robust .243. His ISO of .236 in 2010 matched that of Alex Rodriguez – albeit in a smaller sample – and was higher than notable sluggers: Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeria, and Adrian Gonzalez. He joined Jim Edmonds as the only major leaguers with at least 10 home runs and 15 doubles in less than 275 plate appearances.

To this point in his career, Joyce has been labeled as a platoon hitter and rightfully so. As a left-handed batter, he has rarely faced left-handed pitching (60 career plate appearance). The bulk of his playing time has come against right-handed pitching; again, with good reason. Among players with at least 200 PA against RHP in 2010, his ISO of .261 ranked 10th in the American League while his .391 wOBA (weighted on-base average) was good enough for a top 20 spot, and just .03 points behind the departed Carl Crawford.

If Joyce is going to be a key member of the lineup, the Rays will have to let him hit against LHP. And Joyce must show the ability to handle them. He showed that ability as a minor leaguer in 2009, but has not received much of a chance thus far. If/when he does get that chance; he must do a better job of recognizing off-speed and breaking pitches. In 2010, he whiffed at over half of the soft stuff thrown from LHP.

Will Matt Joyce replace Carl Crawford as the face of the Tampa Bay franchise? No. Will he be able to lead the Rays in :)% in Carlos Pena’s absence? Not likely. After all, no one man should have all that power. Meanwhile, as the Rays (and the fan base) look for someone to pick up the pieces of lost production, they should look no further than Matt Joyce; he’s about to blow up.

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