Last winter the Oakland A’s signed several stopgap veteran hitters to one-year contracts, which helped fill some holes in the lineup while their prospects developed. They gave two years to outfielder Matt Joyce, though, and with the larger commitment came the hope that he might be more than just a warm body. After a strong 2016 season, could a further breakout be coming?
Joyce, April: .167/.230/.288, 40 wRC+, 2 HR, 6.8% BB, 20.3% Ks (in 74 PAs)
Of course, we know better than to put full stock in one month of baseball stats. In fact, Joyce profiled as one of the unluckiest hitters in the game during that stretch, and our own Joseph DeClercq illustrates how he was hitting the ball much better than his numbers indicated.
Now let’s play a game I like to call, “What if April hadn’t happened?” That is, what storylines would we be talking about if the season started May 2? (The A’s were off on May 1.) There are some big changes, like Andrew Triggs’ 4.73 ERA, Yonder Alonso going from good to great, and Ryon Healy rediscovering his stroke (144 wRC+, up from 86 in April). But how about Joyce’s improvement?
Joyce, May/Jun: .216/.352/.443, 121 wRC+, 5 HR, 17.6% BB, 24.1% Ks (in 108 PAs)
The batting average is still low, but that was always part of the deal — he only hit .242 last year and was excellent at the plate because he got on base and hit for power. Now he’s doing those two things again, while hitting for a more reasonable (less awful?) average.
None of this makes him the best hitter on the team or a big superstar or anything, but it’s within the realm of what he was supposed to do on his modest two-year deal. It also helps explain why he’s been in the leadoff spot lately — other than Lowrie, he’s the only hitter who can get on base for boppers like Alonso, Khrush, and Healy. You just have to ignore April to see it. (Note: April is over.)
It’s unfortunate that the next Triple-A prospect who appears to be ready is Matt Olson, since he shares a similar niche as Joyce — a lefty, patient, slugging, corner defender. That makes it seem like Joyce is in the way now, but in reality he still belongs in the lineup against right-handed pitchers. Unlike some of the other stopgaps, he has the chance to contribute in 2018, if he can prove his May is more real than his April.