Matt Joyce: A Story of Plate Discipline and Power

When it comes to rookie contributions, I don't know if there's another team in the majors this year that can stack up to the Rays. According to WAR (Wins Above Replacement), John Jaso, Reid Brignac, and Sean Rodriguez have been the fourth, fifth, and sixth most valuable position players for the Rays this year, and there's another young player fast climbing that list: Matt Joyce. While technically not a rookie (like Sean Rodriguez, he's spent too much time at the major league level already), Joyce has been impressive in his debut with the Rays, hitting three homeruns already, walking a ton, and having two game-winning hits in the last two days. Don't let him low batting average fool you: in only 84 plate appearances, he's already produced 3.8 runs of offensive value (wRAA), good for sixth on the Rays. He's been a hitting stud.

 And so, after his heroics the past couple nights, I want to take a quick look at Matt Joyce and see what he's doing well so far. The answer to that is simple: hitting for power and being patient at the plate. Consider:

OBP

SLG

ISO

HR/FB

Joyce

0.376

0.478

0.246

12.5%

Those are all impressive numbers, but we're dealing with an extremely small sample of data. The power seems legit - he posted a .240 isolated power (ISO) in close to 300 plate appearances with the Tigers in 2008 - but let's instead look at an area where our data has become reliable: Joyce's plate discipline rates. Plate discipline numbers stabilize around 50-100 plate appearances, so how good is Joyce's batting eye? Is it as good as his insane 17.6% walk rate suggests?

In short, the answer is yes. Joyce is swinging at only 19.9% of balls thrown outside of the strikezone, while the league-average is closer to 29% this year. He's the third best player on the Rays at not swinging at balls, trailing only John Jaso (17.5% swing rate) and Kelly Shoppach (19.8%). When a pitch is in the strikezone, Joyce swings at it 63.7% of the time, around a league-average rate. He waits for his pitch and then when he gets it, Joyce unloads. I wouldn't expect him to continue having such a high walk rate, but judging from Shoppach and Jaso, a 13% walk rate should be do-able.

When it comes to making contact, though, Joyce has been below league-average so far. He's made contact on around 75% of his swings, while the league-average is around 81%. This isn't a problem, per se, it just means that Joyce is a typical power hitter and will most likely continue to strike out at a high rate. Carlos Pena makes contact on 70% of his swings, BJ Upton on  73%, and Evan Longoria on 80%. As long as his power and solid batting eye remain, Joyce should have no problem with his contact rate.

Going forward, we have to expect that Joyce will slow down at some point. He's a great hitter, but pitchers are going to adjust to him eventually; he's seeing 60% fastballs at the moment and I'm sure that's going to change. Joe Maddon is giving Joyce every opportunity to succeed - he's only had one at bat against a lefty this season - and so far he's thrived. I would love for Joyce to see regular playing time in rightfield next season but for now, I'm content with him being a righty-masher that knows how to work the count.

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