Matt Joyce’s Platoon Split

Throughout his career, Matt Joyce has always hit righties much hard than lefties.

I’ve always thought Matt Joyce was an underappreciated player. Joyce plays in Tampa Bay, is only in his fourth season and does not play everyday.  He also has been on the disabled list since June.  That combination does not lead to much buzz, even in baseball’s most in-depth circles.  The trading deadline, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper are just too much fun to talk about, I guess.

I’ve personally been fascinated with Joyce since before he reached the majors in 2008, and have never really had the chance to explain why; I just find his platoon split to be intriguing .

Since 2008 among outfielders with 1000 career PAs, Joyce has the ninth-highest wRC+ (137) against right-handed pitching, ranking between Carlos Gonzalez and Adam Dunn.  Joyce puts up All-Star level numbers against righties; while, putting up feeble numbers (83 wRC+) when facing pitchers of the same hand. Here’s a table of his entire career split:

Hand

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

HR

BABIP

BB%

K%

vs. Righty

1106

.273

.363

.518

137

50

.298

11.8%

19.1%

vs. Lefty

230

.214

.306

.343

83

5

.299

10.4%

30.4%

Joyce has been referred to as the “definition” of a platoon player; while his numbers against righties are substantially better, that label may not be warranted.  Joyce is still only 27 (will turn 28 in a couple weeks) and has 230 career PAs against lefties.  The average MLB regular has between 150 and 170 PAs vs. left-handers, per season; thus, Joyce is a young left-handed hitter with just over a season’s worth of plate appearances against pitchers of the same handedness.  His numbers against lefties are bad, but come in a very small sample size across three and a half seasons of big league baseball.

The goal of this post is not to analyze whether or not Joyce should ditch the platoon label and become an everyday player (you can venture over to DRaysBay for that). Instead the goal is to look at what Joyce has already done, in his career, against different handed pitchers, using Henry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks’ new Hitter Pitch F/X profiles.

These profiles give us an opportunity to look into Joyce’s actual approach at the plate and possibly learn how and where he kills righties, and why he has struggled so mightily against lefties.

First here’s Joyce’s career TAv vs. Right-Handed pitching (RHP)

**Note: TAv is scaled with .260 as league average**

 

Joyce crushes righties on pitches down the middle, low and in (off the plate), and up and away.  He struggles on balls thrown low and away and up and in from right-handers.

Joyce seems to crush almost anything RHH throw his way, but that is not entirely true.  Check out Joyce’s work against breaking balls from RHH:


Joyce only hits breaking stuff well from righties, on pitches right down the middle, or middle away; that’s it.  I find this to be surprising for a hitter who does so well against right-handed pitching; breaking stuff down in the zone really seems to trouble Joyce.

When looking at Joyce’s TAv numbers vs. lefties, there are fewer dark red boxes than his TAv vs. RHH chart:

 

Joyce still hits pretty well against lefties when the ball is over the middle and up and away, but almost every other box sees a severe dip in TAv; which we would expect based on his platoon split.

By looking at his two total TAv charts, it seems clear that Joyce’s biggest weakness comes on pitches low and away; regardless of the handedness of the pitcher or pitch type.  Thus, I wondered whether or not scouting reports (and/or front offices) have picked up on this possible “hole” in Joyce’s swing, and worked him in his career more down and away.  Thankfully, his Pitch F/X profile has the answer:

 

It’s clear from this chart that pitchers have tried to work Joyce low and away over the course of his career; however, this chart only compares Joyce to himself.  There’s a chance that pitchers tend to work all left-handed hitters low and away; thus, detracting from the “uniqueness” of  their approach to facing Joyce.  Here’s pitchers’ approaches to Joyce normalized against his left-handed hitting peers, in his career:

 

Pitchers do seem to work Joyce low and away an above average amount of the time, but only slightly.

So far, these charts reinforced something we knew; Joyce has been a much better hitter against righties.  And brought us to a couple conclusions that we may not have known; Joyce struggles against breaking stuff from righties, and struggles against pitches that are low and outside in general, but pitchers don’t work him there an exorbitantly high amount of the time.

The final thing that jumped out to me about Joyce’s career platoon splits, was the over 11-percent higher his strikeout rate versus lefties than he has versus right-handid pitching. So I used this Pitch F/X tool to discover where lefties tend to get Joyce to whiff:


Lefties have gotten Joyce to swing and miss a lot on pitches low and out of the strike zone, especially on pitches low and away (regardless of pitch type).

Joyce is due back from the DL, this week, so I’ll be interested in seeing if Joyce’s platoon numbers continue to be spread over the course of the rest of the 2012 season, as well as his career.  I would not say the book is out on Joyce, but his hitter profile gives us a pretty distinct look into where he does well (typically up in the zone, as well as middle of plate), and where he struggles (low and away, and against breaking stuff from righties).  It was interesting to see just how much better Joyce hits against right-handed pitching, but also see that he does have flaws in his approach to facing them.

I think it’s great that Baseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball’s new Hitter (and Pitcher) Pitch F/X profiles will give bloggers one more tool in their arsenal in terms of evaluating Major League Baseball players.

This post would not have been possible without BP and Brooks Baseball’s Hitter Pitch F/X tool.  Also all statistical data came courtesy of Fangraphs.

For more from Glenn you can follow him on twitter @Baseballs_Econ or check out his latest at Beyond the Box Score.

Topics: Baseball Prospectus, Matt Joyce, Pitch F/X, Platoon, Platoon Splits, Tampa Bay Rays

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  • The5_5Hole

    Fantastic analysis Glen! I’ve always loved Joyce as well, but I never took too detailed a look behind the surface level numbers.