Rare is the time I will write that watching the game gives you a better idea of how a player has performed than his statistics, but it’s true with Matt Joyce. Entering tonight’s game, Joyce will hold a .130/.259/.217 line, with two extra base hits (both doubles) in 27 plate appearances. It’s not pretty, but there is plenty of reason for optimism.
One of Joyce’s best attributes is his plate discipline. He shows a willingness to take pitches that can sometimes be confused as passiveness at the plate. Last season alone, Joyce averaged 4.18 pitches per plate appearance and is at 4.96 pitches per plate appearance so far this season. I would not consider this detrimental to his success, though, as he is not falling into pitcher’s counts then putting whatever he can into play. The reality is just the opposite: Joyce is ending his plate appearances while ahead, as illustrated by these numbers:
(Times the plate appearance ended)
With the batter ahead: 17 – .154/.353/.308
With the pitcher ahead: 2 – .000/.000/.000
With an even count: 8 – .125/.125/.125
For the curious, here are the league average rates for those splits so far:
With the batter ahead: .304/.472/.501
With the pitcher ahead: .202/.211/.291
With an even count: .264/.268/.415
Mostly intuitive, as an ingredient to being a good batter is working into manageable counts. Joyce has power (he has a nearly identical career ISO to Carlos Pena) and he is putting the ball in the air (FanGraphs has his groundball rate at 29.4 percent, which would represent a career low), either via line drive or flyball, but they are not landing –either within the playing field or over the wall—just yet. It seems like once a game Joyce hammers a sharp liner down the right field line only to have the first baseman pluck it from the sky, which helps to explain his .176 batting average on balls in play. That’s very unlikely to continue.
Getting ahead, working counts, hitting balls hard –all what you want from a corner outfielder with power. Joyce has been following the process to good offense to a tee. The results will come soon enough, perhaps starting tonight. Daisuke Matzusaka has the tendency to fall behind hitters, leading to some unfortunate (on his end, at least) pitches over the plate. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to me if Joyce adds an extra base hit or two to his total.