StrategyJune 12, 2011

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Buyer Beware: Matt Joyce

By Josh Shepardson

Unlike some of the previous Buyer Beware feature players, Matt Joyce should be universally owned. In Joyce’s case, he’s good, just not this good. As a player with a short track record of success, he’s not an easy sell high candidate, so at this point, it is about determining exactly what his true talent level is. Once determining his expected level of play for the remainder of the season, the decision as to whether to hold him, or sell him at a lesser value than his surface stats would suggest should become much clearer.

The former Detroit Tiger, and the player dealt for Edwin Jackson, began showcasing his major league talent level for his previous employer in 2008 but didn’t get an extended opportunity to do the same for the Rays until last season. Joyce is a player capable of drawing walks at a healthy clip, and hitting for power which is best illustrated by his isolated power (ISO) rates of .240 in 2008, .236 in 2010 and .251 this year, all tremendous marks. His home run pace looks reasonable, and it is fair to project him to continue hitting for pop at roughly the same rate.

Regression for Joyce can be expected to come in the form of correction to his batting average. His batted ball data supports a higher average than in previous seasons as he is stroking more line drives, clearing the fence on a higher percentage of his flyballs, and popping the ball up much less frequently than he had in 2008 and 2010. Unfortunately, these positives still don’t make a .384 BABIP sustainable. There are always outliers (David Wright’s 2009 season comes to mind), but expecting a player to buck the norm is, in more cases than not, going to lead to disappointment. Once his BABIP normalizes, I’d guesstimate his average to fall in the .280’s-to-.290’s range, still solid for a power hitter, but a far cry from his current .338 average.

Those hoping that his average will stay above .300 because of his improved strikeout rate are likely to be disappointed to find out that he hasn’t improved as greatly as it would appear taking a cursory glance at his FanGraphs player page. In fact, his contact rate on pitches this year is actually lower than last season (77.9 percent contact in 2010 and 77.5 percent contact in 2011). The problem with judging his strikeout rate by FanGraphs measure is how they choose to calculate it. Recently, fellow writer at The Hardball Times Jeffrey Gross pointed out that FanGraphs calculates strikeout rate using at bats not plate appearances. Thus, if a player walks less, something Joyce has done this year, and puts the ball in play more frequently, which he has, it will lead to the appearance that they’ve struck out signficantly less frequently (25.5 percent strikeout rate in 2010, 21.5 percent strikeout rate in 2011). Calculating Joyce’s strikeout rate per plate appearance in 2008, 2010 and 2011 yields the following marks; 23.5 percent in 2008, 21.1 percent in 2010 and 19.2 percent in 2011. Looking at his strikeout rate using plate appearances as the denominator shows a much less drastic drop in strikeout rate from 2010 to 2011 than using at bats. It is good to see Joyce reining in his strikeouts some, as it should help him produce a higher average than he has previously, just be careful in projecting too great a leap in batting average because of it.

A true waiver wire All-Star for those who have added him this year, his value going forward is likely greatest to those who currently roster him. Should you be in need of power coupled with a non-damaging average, kicking the tires on Joyce isn’t a poor decision, but don’t make the mistake of paying the sticker price that comes with his superb surface stats, as they aren’t a true indication of the type of player Joyce is.

Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
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