Coming into last night's match up against the visiting Minnesota Twins one could have looked at Matt Joyce's early numbers and been wondering, even in such small sample sizes, why in the world he is still starting games for the Rays.
One answer to why he is starting is simple. Who else would be starting in his place? Sure, you could slot Sean Rodriguez in at second base and move Ben Zobrist to right field but Rodriguez struggles against right handers while Joyce has a career .346 on-base percentage, .499 slugging percentage, and .363 wOBA against right-handers. Benching Joyce makes zero sense, especially against right handers.
One could then argue that Joyce's triple-slash line of .138/.242/.207 (.208 wOBA) in his first 33 plate appearances is enough to try Rodriguez at second and move Zobrist to right until Joyce finds his swing. Well, I've got news for those that believe Joyce needs to take a rest: Joyce's stroke has been here all along and a .208 wOBA it is not.
In those 33 plate appearances Joyce has been victimized by the BABIP Dragon. His BABIP in those 33 PAs was .182 but, please, do not blame plate discipline, poor contact or weak contact for Joyce's failures to get the ball to hit the ground and not land in a fielder's glove. Joyce's line-drive percentage over those plate appearances is a very strong 27.3%. In fact, there are 64 players with a LD% of 22% or higher with at least 30 plate appearances and Joyce is the only one with a BABIP under .200 and 43 of those 64 players have a BAIP above .300. Joyce has been the epitome of unlucky. Joyce has also seen 4.67 pitches per plate appearance this season. Both his P/PA and LD% show me that he is seeing the ball real well in this early season and that it was only a matter of time for Joyce to break out. Last night may have been the break out.
Last night Joyce went 3-4 with an opposite field single, a line-drive single to center field, and a line-drive double in the right-center gap that drove in two to tie the game at two in the 9th inning. Joyce, after starting the season 1-20, is 6 for his last 13. Joyce has raised his triple-slash line to .212/.297/.303 over 37 plate appearances with a wOBA of .270 and while that is nothing to write home about it is a far cry from his 1-20 start and .138/.242/.207 line before last night's game against the Twins.
For those of you that were calling for Joyce's head and you know who you are, please give it time. These are small sample sizes and some of the numbers do look pathetic at best but you have to dig a little deeper and when you do you will find that Joyce's stroke has been there all along. The hits are going to come. The hits have already started to come. Stop calling for his benching and sit back and enjoy what Joyce is going to offer, because the hard contact coupled with his patience and power could become something special.