Deep Thoughts: Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez Edition

To say the Rays offense has been frustrating to watch would be akin to saying Dirk Nowitzki is good at basketball. It's something we all know. Using wOBA, the Rays have three players doing very well, Matt Joyce (.446), Casey Kotchman(.379) and Ben Zobrist(.373). Other than them it's a team filled with meh and bleh. Last year the MLB average wOBA was .321, and while I'm sure that number has moved a bit so far this season I don't have those numbers readily available. Including the three names I already mentioned the Rays have seven batters who have wOBA's above .321, and seven who are below it (based on 75 PA).

Two of the biggest offenders have been the shortstop and left field positions. Sam Fuld and Reid Brignac haven't provided the offense one would like, and Elliott Johnson is better suited for a super utility role. The Rays have two players in house, Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez, who murder opposite handed pitching but have struggled against same handed throwers in the limited Major League experience they've received against them. With the other options struggling, is it time to finally play them full time? Brad and I discuss.

***

Erik: I guess the questions we have to start with is how much faith do you put in the small sample of numbers Joyce and Rodriguez have against same handed pitching, and do you think it's something that can be learned by a good hitter over time?

Brad: The issue with these two hitters is not so much their major league struggles, but more so the fact that they've demonstrated a platoon-like profile throughout the minors. Both of these hitters did not fare as well against the same hand pretty much at every level they played.

Additionally, because they are opposite-handed hitters (Joyce is a lefty, Rodriguez is a righty) and because of Ben Zobrist's flexibility, they are essentially platooning with each other, meaning each other's strengths are being used to the max.

And though I say they had platoon splits in the minors, they still mashed both hands.

Erik: But you would agree that playing Joyce and Rodriguez (at shortstop) full time would likely be better than the production we're getting now, yes? I realize Joyce playing full time has the caveat of someone like Jennings playing LF full time as well.

Brad: I'm all for Rodri -- may I call him Rodri? -- at second and Joyce in left for the foreseeable future. This way we get some awesome Zobrist defense (and a Reverse Oreo Stallionare Outfield) and we get a better look at both platooners.

I doubt that will happen. What I suspect is that Maddon wants Joyce and S-Tastic to start punishing the opposite hand before they get full looks. Joyce is just about there, but Puffers, not so much.

Erik: I guess it's a chicken and egg situation. How do they start punishing the same hand if they're given so few looks at them?

So you're saying you want Joyce in LF, Benzo in RF, S-Rod at 2B full time, and Brignac at SS full time? Also, Joyce and S-Rod are crushing opposite handed pitchers. S-Rod has a .464 wOBA vs LHP this year.

Brad: Wow! I just figured, given his .328 wOBA, that ol' Sean of Dead was not killing the opposite hand. Still, that's just over 40 PAs against lefties -- that's not enough to judge a player by unless he's named Johnson. And in the meantime, he's be more than terrible against righties.

I think if he's still mashing lefties to a .370+ wOBA by the All-Star break, then I think he finds regular at bats somewhere.

Erik: Well, he did wOBA .360 against southpaws last year as well.

What about Joyce then? When do you feel it appropriate for him to get all the starts against LHP?

Brad: Immediately.

Erik: So your ideal situation has Brignac starting?

Brad: My ideal situation is Brignac hitting well. For the mean time, give him optimal success opportunities by subbing Elliot Johnson against tough match-ups.

Brignac has a .220ish BABIP right now, despite a career .300 BABIP. Granted, he's not tearing into the ball right now, but he could start at any moment. Last year he hit 8 homers over 300+ PAs. If he had that same pace this year, he'd already have 2.6 homers.

I don't think Brignac's book is writ yet.

Erik: With Brignac starting at shortstop in your scenario, and Joyce and Benzo in the outfield corners, where does that leave Desmond Jennings once he's recalled from Durham? He IS going to be up at some point before September this year, and he's going to play every day when that day comes.

Brad: I'd rather cross that bridge when we get there. At this point, we know the Rays apparently do not want Jennings up in the off-chance Super 2 lives on. So you work with what you've got and then adjust accordingly in the future.

We do not know if Jennings will still be raking come June and July -- or if he will be healthy. Odds are, though, that an injury or a transaction somewhere and somehow will change the landscape around entirely by then.

Erik: With the way the offense is performing, and my expectation of a third place finish coming into this season, I feel like being in this position even ~50 games into the season is fortunate. I don't see the harm in giving Rodriguez and Joyce full time work in the order for the time being.

Brad: That's the other issue: Which is the correct approach to the season?

We have been lucky enough to be in first so far, but developmentally, we could maybe do better by giving these guys more playing time -- yet doing so could push the team into a corner contention-wise (perfect games from the pitchers or bust).

I think, in the long run, playing them full time gives us a better report on them -- as well as giving them a full chance to improve. You say the Rays should finish 3rd, but do you think playing Joyce and Rodri full time would help or hurt the 2011 team?

Erik: That's the thing, I don't think it could hurt the 2011 team based on the results up to this point. Would Joyce and S-Rod fare worse than Fuld/Brignac/Johnson have? I don't believe that to be true. It at least certainly has the potential to be much better. Not that everyone is going to do this, but look at what Curtis Granderson has done against same handed pitchers this season after years of being terrible against them.

Brad: All due respect to Granderson's amazing 54 PAs verse lefties this year, I do not think the Rays will get so lucky with Joyce or S-Tastic. I'm very much on the fence about the issue, but still would love to see more of both of them.

I'd also like to see more Elliot Johnson, somehow. Any chance his above average hitting is for real this year?

Erik: They don't have to be amazing against LHP and RHP respectively; they just have to be decent. Would you take a .300 wOBA for both of them against the same handed pitcher? I would.

As for Elliott, I like him just fine as a bench player, but I think his current .309 wOBA is probably right around where he'll plateau.

Brad: Call me an Johnson sucker, but I like that guy.

*drops mic, walks away*

Erik: Aaaaaaaand on that note I think it's time to wrap it up. We're in agreement that Joyce should play every day, but we'll have to agree to disagree on Rodriguez for now.

Instead of studying for finals, what about just going to the Bahamas and catching some rays? Maybe you'll flunk, but you might have flunked anyway; that's my point - Jack Handey

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