Fantasy Baseball

The Villar Village: Matt Joyce

On our first podcast of the season, we did a transaction rundown and when we got to Matt Joyce, I chuckled.  This laughter was because I knew my co-host and most listeners at-large were asking themselves – “Why are they covering someone like Matt Joyce?”  I also knew that the same crowd would find my thoughts regarding Joyce equally, if not more comical.  Matt Joyce, 32 years old, strong-side platoon bat with a career triple-slash of .242/.341/.429 and a career high single-season home run total of 19.

I said that I thought he could he hit 25 homers.  I meant it.

In this week’s edition of the Villar Village, I will take a deep dive on Joyce and defend my position on our inaugural podcast…  And maybe, just maybe, some of you readers will buy in, as well.

In 2015 with the Angels, his lone season with the club, Joyce managed just 5 homers and an atrocious triple-slash of .174/.272/.292 over 284 PA.  The year was so abysmal that Joyce was only able to garner a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Joyce was right on the fringe of becoming organizational depth or out baseball entirely.

However, during the course of his time with the Pirates, similar to last week’s entry Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce made some mechanical adjustments to his swing and approach.  Over 293 plate appearances, Joyce launched 13 homers and triple-slashed .242/.403/.463.  His OBP is not a misprint.  Joyce walked 20.1% of the time.  Among all MLB players with 250 or more PA, Joyce led them all in walk rate.  The names directly below him are an extremely impressive group: Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, Brandon Belt, Paul Goldschmidt, Josh Donaldson, and Ben Zobrist.  All of those players are separate by just 2% in walk rate, Matt Joyce beat out Harper by nearly 3%.

It is extremely hard to fake a walk rate.  As you could probably guess, Joyce had the lowest O-Swing% (18.2%) in the Majors, as well.  That number is nearly 7% below his career average.  He also swung at the lowest rate of his career, with a Swing% of just 38.2%.  Although Joyce might not duplicate a 20% walk rate in 2017, he is going to walk plenty, which will help curb some of his potential average downside.

As much as I think walk rate and plate discipline are somewhat underrated in  fantasy circles and, in particular, traditional 5×5 formats, I understand that his walk rate does not directly benefit his owners in those traditional formats.  Those owners need to be sold on the power and the opportunity.

With respect to the power, it is not difficult to prorate Joyce’s home run total to a near full season of plate appearances – 293 PA, 13 HR doubled is 586 PA, 26 home runs.  Now, there are dangers in doing that sort of simple math.  Joyce has never seen 586 PA in a season – his career high was 522 in 2011.  There is also a question of whether that power pace is sustainable.

Let’s first address the opportunity.  Joyce signed in Oakland.  I do not need to look that far back to find players, who have enjoyed late-career breakouts and resurgences in Oakland.  Danny Valencia, Josh Donaldson, and Brandon Moss are three right off the top of my head.  Oakland might frustrate their fans with their cost-saving ways, but it is undeniable that they have been able to unearth valuable sluggers that did not fit the traditional mold.  Bluntly, I think the A’s signing him signals that there is something tangible to last season’s partial breakout beyond a ridiculously high walk rate.

The A’s can also offer Joyce somewhere near full-time at-bats.  At minimum, Joyce is heading for the lion’s share of plate appearances because of his strong-side platoon advantage.  There is no one at the MLB-level to take away that job and if Joyce hits righties the way he did last year, he could start seeing ABs v. lefties, as well.  The A’s are not an offensive powerhouse at the moment and although they like to platoon, they showed with Valencia, who was known strictly as a lefty masher, that they are willing to buck platoon-labels, when it is warranted.

Under normal circumstances, I would be critical of Joyce’s power breakout.  His FB% was lowest of his career (35.6%) and his HR/FB rate was his highest (22.4%) after two consecutive seasons of single digits (7.6% in 2014 and 6.6% in 2015).  However, these are not normal circumstances, Joyce, like his former teammate Sean Rodriguez, learned some new tricks.

As pointed out in this FanGraphs article, which was written by Jeff Sullivan, after his terrible 2015, Joyce worked hard to restructure his swing and enlisted aid from the instructors, who helped J.D. Martinez and Josh Donaldson.  Two players who seemingly came from nowhere to emerge as All-Star level producers for their  teams and fantasy owners.  The change that Joyce made is simple on the surface – he moved his hands down from behind his head to about chest level.

Unquestionably, this little change allowed for his swing to be more efficient and quick to the ball.  There is less effort involved in the swing and keeping his hands lower appears to have made Joyce more compact at the plate.  This has aided him in two additional ways: (1) by being more compact, Joyce has effectively shrunk his strike zone and (2) Joyce has been able to use more of his lower half to generate hard contact and ideal lift.

Unless Joyce loses his mechanics over the offseason, it is likely that the power is here to stay.  When combined with his pitch recognition skills, it means that Joyce is going to be using his new and improved swing against better pitches to hit than in the past.

Matt Joyce – welcome to the Villar Village!

My Projection: 550 PA, 26 HR, 69 R, 75 RBI, .255/.380/.460

Villar Village Inhabitants:

1B/2B/SS/OF. Nick Franklin

OF. Charlie Tilson

OF. Alex Dickerson

SP. Tyler Skaggs

1B. Dan Vogelbach

1B/2B/3B/SS/OF. Sean Rodriguez

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