Should Snider And Thames Be Competing?

Travis Snider has been locked in a battle with Eric Thames for the final roster spot in the Jays’ outfield, but I don’t think this makes any sense. Not because I think Snider should be handed a job, or that Thames is terrible or anything. No, the reason is that I’m not sure why Ben Francisco has a guaranteed job with Toronto.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that Snider hasn’t performed optimally in the Majors the past three seasons, and that last season in particular was a bit of a disaster. But as bench options go, Ben Francisco simply isn’t a great fit for the Blue Jays. While Francisco does bring a decent stick to the table — his projected .327 wOBA ties him for 61st among outfielders — it’s not going to be terribly valuable for Toronto. Jose Bautista isn’t going to need or get a caddy in right field, and Francisco isn’t capable of playing center field. That leaves left field. And while both of the main candidates for the starting gig there — Snider and Thames — are worse at hitting southpaws than Elaine Benes is at ordering soup, Francisco isn’t the best candidate to carry the shallow half of a platoon with either of them.

Francisco is a nice little hitter, but against lefties, he’s not as good as Rajai Davis. Over the past three seasons, Davis has a better wOBA and wRC+ against lefties than does Francisco. The difference was even more pronounced last season, as Davis’ .362 wOBA left Francisco and the .301 mark he put up in a down year in the dust. The two hitters have different skill sets, but overall Davis has simply been more effective. It’s not just offensively that Francisco comes up short — Davis is also the much better baserunner and basestealer. Finally, Davis is probably the better defender as well. Over the past three seasons, Francisco comes in behind Davis in DRS, UZR and UZR/150. To be sure, Davis isn’t anyone’s idea of a Gold Glover, but he wins out here as well.

Francisco is a better hitter against right-handed pitchers than is Davis, but here again, Francisco isn’t the best option –Thames hit righties better than did Francisco last season. Francisco may be a better defender than Thames, but Thames is five years younger, already has more built-in knowledge of the Rogers Centre and is fleeter of foot. And while Francisco may or may not have an edge over Thames defensively, Snider is easily the best defender of the bunch. In fact, of the seven players most likely to see time in the outfield this year for the Jays — Bautista, Colby Rasmus, Thames, Davis, Francisco, Snider and Mike McCoy — only the latter two could be considered plus defenders, and most of McCoy’s time will likely be spent in the infield.

So, outside of Bautista and Rasmus, here are our best options among the four remaining outfield candidates:

– Hitting vs. LHP – Davis
– Hitting vs. RHP – Thames
– Defense – Snider
– Baserunning/stealing – Davis

If you subscribe to the theory, as I do, that a player on the bench should have one thing that he does better than everyone else, then Francisco is expendable. And while there is an argument that he could be the best pinch-hitter of the bunch, there are two mitigating factors there. One, he wasn’t any great shakes in the role last year (7-for-26, no homers in the regular season), and two, Blue Jays manager John Farrell didn’t pinch hit much last season — the Jays’ 59 pinch-hit at bats tied for 26th in the Majors last season.

There is another consideration here as well. While Snider has flailed at the Major League level since 2009, he has mashed in the Minors. Since his Major League debut, he has hit .322/.388/.542 in the Minors. There’s not much left that he can prove there. We frequently hear that young players need consistent at-bats to mature and find a groove in the Majors, but that doesn’t really seem to have helped Snider. Every time Snider has been in the Majors, it has been with heavy expectations — even if he has hit in the bottom of the order during much of that time — and he has failed to meet them. Perhaps if Snider was allowed to sit on the bench and learn for a bit in a low-pressure role, coming off the bench as a defensive sub and spot starting once-twice a week, it would help him get comfortable and allow him to produce, and then take on a larger role gradually. Not to mention it would allow the Jays to save his one remaining option.

While we can’t know exactly how Snider would react to such a situation, we can state that a platoon of Thames and Davis, with Snider serving as the fifth outfielder is going to align the Blue Jays’ talent more optimally, since Snider is a better defender than is Francisco. If the Blue Jays are serious about trying to make the playoffs this year, they are going to need every little edge, and having a plus defender off the bench to spell one of the Jays’ many subpar defenders is definitely an edge worth having.

Snider and Thames are dueling for the starting spot in left field, and it is a toss-up. Snider has played better in Spring Training, but Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos has maintained that Thames is the favorite. But the best option may be to roster both, at the expense of Francisco. Yes, Francisco’s homer in the 2011 postseason was awesome, and while he is coming off of a down year, he does have a good bat overall. But he offers Toronto less utility than he might another team, and they should explore trading him.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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kevin
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kevin
4 years 4 months ago

The Jays want both Snider and Thames to play everyday so they can’t both be in the majors.

Tim
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Tim
4 years 4 months ago

This.

When he first came up, he wasn’t playing everyday (Cito would usually sit him against lefties) and it didn’t help him at all. Being in the minors isn’t ideal, but that’s the only place he’ll play every game if Thames wins the starting job in Toronto.

Jim
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Jim
4 years 4 months ago

This is not only in reply to Kevin, but to the entire premise of the article, too, I think.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the Jays have a hole at DH? Like a giant, gaping hole that they sometimes refer to as Edward Encarnacion? In other words, unless I missed some Blue Jays’ transactions this offseason–and I don’t think I did–he would be considered the primary DH as of right now? Lind is obviously the 1B, and I think I have every other position covered(Johnson at 2B, Escobar at SS, Lawrie at 3B, Arencibia at C).

Well, I think a good move would be to just move Encarnacion into a reserve role(backup 1B/3B and occasional DH), make Snider the primary DH(which would mitigate his not-so-great defense, too) and make Thames the primary LF. That would leave Thames, Rasmus, and Bautista as the starting OF, with Davis and perhaps Francisco as the reserve OF.

Even then, I do tend to agree that Francisco is superfluous, and trading him or releasing him in the next 2 weeks might be better for everyone involved. That way, Snider(or even McCoy) could serve as the occasional 5th OF, with Thames, Rasmus, Bautista, and Davis as the 4 primary OF. Snider would still get to play (just about) every day, but at the big league level–he has little left to prove in the minors, methinks.

Just a thought. ;)

Jesse
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4 years 4 months ago

Snider is a better defender than Thames

VJO
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VJO
4 years 4 months ago

EE is far from a “big gaping hole”. He was actually one of the better hitters on the team once they stopped letting him play defense.

Also Thames is the one with not so good defense, not Snider.

VJO
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VJO
4 years 4 months ago

Anybody else notice that most of Snider’s at-bats this spring ends in either an xbh or a K?

Someanalyst
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Someanalyst
4 years 4 months ago

When I check a few games ago, fully half (some 15 out of 31 I think) of his plate appearances were 3-true-outcomes…

Expos67
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Expos67
4 years 4 months ago

Should Rasmus struggles continue, I could see Snider in CF with Thames in LF by midseason. Snider was playing CF for most of the time during the last month in AAA with suprising results.

Of course, I hope it doesn’t come to that.

duder
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duder
4 years 4 months ago

Snider was raking last year, until they started playing him in CF. On the games he played CF, he would suck (or against great lefties like CC and Lester). I think playing CF really hurt his offense when he was hitting well earlier in the season, and then it just snowballed. Put Snider in left, and let the young dude mash righties and figure out lefties.

byron
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byron
4 years 4 months ago

Snider had a 91 wRC+ last year against righties in the majors. He started 4 games in CF and was inserted there twice. What are you talking about?

joser
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joser
4 years 4 months ago

That’s an interesting theory, but is 18 PA (the number Snider had while playing CF in 2011) really the basis for concluding anything?

Mike Newman
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4 years 4 months ago

Very interesting piece Paul. I’m not sure Thames/Snider are destined for bench pieces yet so I understand their wanting both to log regular at bats. If the team was a legit playoff contender in that division, the philosophy might be a little different.

Ryan
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Ryan
4 years 4 months ago

I’m still puzzled by the assertion that Snider is a good defender. Fangraphs is the only place I’ve even heard it suggested that he is above average. Overall, the stats are inconclusive in about 1.25 seasons worth of data and I don’t remember any scouting report praising his defense.

198d
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198d
4 years 4 months ago

Snider is slow, but takes good routes and has an average to above-average arm. Initially, thoughts were he’d be well below average in the field, but he’s made much progress defensively and is at least average out there now. Compared to the alternatives (i.e. Thames), he’s much, much better.

gabriel
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gabriel
4 years 4 months ago

Snider isn’t slow anymore. He’s significantly faster now than when he first came up. He posted a 5.4 speed score last year in the majors while amassing 21 stolen bases between Toronto and the minors.

TX Ball Scout
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TX Ball Scout
4 years 4 months ago

Snider is slow?

LOL!

What the hell are you talking about?

TX Ball Scout
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TX Ball Scout
4 years 4 months ago

His home to first was 4.1 in Vegas, last I saw him.

How’s that?

Craig
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Craig
4 years 4 months ago

He’s plus defender for LF, not many LF’s defend like Crawford or Gardiner. He’s actually not all that slow either, he’s no burner but this guy was a high school runningback so he does have some decent speed.

Psst
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Psst
4 years 4 months ago

When I was in High School I had to try and tackle Joel Steed who was playing running back for Hinckley HS, he wasn’t quite NFL NT size then, but he was close.

exxrox
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exxrox
4 years 4 months ago

Snider looks good with the glove by comparison, because Thames is slow (even though this article suggests he is quicker than Fransisco, which I can’t attest to), takes bad routes, and has a popgun arm (which allegedly has improved after Thames bulked up).

What I disagree with most about this article is that Rasmus is somehow labelled a bad defender. I now see that UZR doesn’t like him but I don’t believe that at all – say what you want about his bat when he came over to Toronto, but he flashed a very good glove in center field and I am pretty confident that he will be an asset there defensively.

As for the premise that Fransisco has no place on the team: correct at its base, but the goal is to get both players with an actual future regular at bats. Carrying two left handed left fielders doesn’t really add up on a major league roster. The team is committed to giving full playing time to LF/DH/1B and not platooning anybody.

Mark
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Mark
4 years 4 months ago

Why is it so difficult to bench EE and have Snider in LF and Thames DHing? EE had a nice run at the end of the year, but a 787 OPS shouldn’t guarantee him a spot as the DH. Rotate him around 1B/DH/LF vs LHP. This way you get to see Snider AND Thames play and can compare them fairly well at the major league level.

And Snider has never been given a real opportunity. What kind of organization gives a star prospect the most at bats from the #9 spot? How sad is that? Snider has more AB in the #9 spot then anywhere else.

exxrox
Member
exxrox
4 years 4 months ago

The organization believes in EE’s ability – his slugging is very good, and he settled in once he got his defensive lapses out of the way and enjoyed regular playing time. I think it is fair to see what he can do full-time, because he can be the second best hitter on the club for extended periods of time when he gets hot.

Snider got boned by Cito Gaston – dude just didn’t change the lineup card from day one of his managing stint.

Tim
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Tim
4 years 4 months ago

I think they’d rather not jerk Snider (or Thames) around anymore by having them have to worry about playing another position and without EE, there’s no back-up 1B besides maybe Vizquel in an emergency.

Mark
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Mark
4 years 4 months ago

How are they playing another position in my scenario? Snider plays in left, Thames plays at DH. For all intents and purposes those are their standard positions, no? It’s not like Thames can play defence…

I didn’t say to get rid of EE. I just said stick him on the bench vs RHP. It’s not like he can be an effective backup 1B as the starting DH. Moving him to 1B means you lose the DH and the pitcher has to hit. And then your pinch hit options become Vizquel and Mathis. Gross.

Fransisco adds no value to the roster. The Jays are better off with a bench of EE, Vizquel, Davis, and backup C (I refuse to say the Jays are better off with Mathis, because that would be crazy talk). The lineup will be better off in the long term if both Snider/Thames play, so they can gain more experience in the majors (as neither can gain anything from playing in Vegas or the minors anymore). And that way, the Jays can go into 2013 with a definite idea of Snider’s and Thames abilities, rather than hoping that they’ll produce. Or guessing as to what they’ll produce. We’ve been playing that game with Snider for how long now, because the Jays refused to give him a real opportunity. And don’t tell me they’ve ever given him a shot, as no team bats a star prospect 9th for most of his career (and that’s the spot he has the most AB in the order) and can claim that they’ve tried to properly develop and integrate him to the majors.

Because if we find out Thames/Snider can’t produce this year, then the Jays need to find replacements (Gose, Marisnick, whomever) sooner rather than later.

Craig
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Craig
4 years 4 months ago

The major problem here is that the Jays gave too many bench roles to guys who’s bats grade out to zero. Vizquel and Mathis are probably 2 of the worst bats in the league, so the Jays really have no option but to carry a guy like Francisco cause you need some type of bat on the bench that can hit LH pitching with some type of power. Especially when they have so many guys that have been pretty much auto outs when it comes to hitting LH pitching in Lind, Rasmus, Snider and Thames.

Matty Brown
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Matty Brown
4 years 4 months ago

I saw an interview with Thames a couple weeks ago, and he looked fucking jacked, he was very noticeably larger than last year.

VJO
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VJO
4 years 4 months ago

Check out the pics/vids from their winter tour around Canada. He looked huge.

greenfrog
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greenfrog
4 years 4 months ago

I was actually worried about that – I would rather see him work on refining his hitting mechanics and approach at the plate than get huge in the weight room.

exxrox
Member
exxrox
4 years 4 months ago

I don’t know – his swing is already very pretty, it seems to me that a few extra muscles would serve to improve his gap power to over the fence power.

greenfrog
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greenfrog
4 years 4 months ago

I don’t know – when the Canadian Juniors played the Jays the other day, one of their players couldn’t believe how un-stacked Bautista was, saying I can’t believe this guy hits 50 friggin’ HRs a year. You don’t need huge biceps to hit for power.

gabriel
Member
gabriel
4 years 4 months ago

I’m afraid there’s a significant problem here: there’s no attempt to regress platoon splits to the league average, as certain folks around here suggest. Such a regression estimates Davis’ true talent platoon split at 7.8%, and Francisco’s at 5.4%. Given that Davis’ wOBA projections top out around .310, and Francisco’s projections are around .330, there’ little doubt we should expect Francisco to be the better hitter against left-handed pitchers. Roughly speaking and being generous to Davis, against lefties I have Francisco with a wOBA of .337 and Davis with a wOBA of .326.

Steve
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Steve
4 years 4 months ago

Thames defense is no where near as bad as people make it seem. Below average maybe, but his arm last year wasn’t the arm that was written about when he was in the minors.

Grant
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Grant
4 years 4 months ago

The other issue is overall depth. As the roster stands, with everyone healthy, Francisco has limited use. But, injuries will happen, and you can stash one of Thames/Snider in the minors and keep Francisco on the roster playing a bit here and there. If an OF gets hurt he fills in, or if Lind or Encarnacion get hurt Francisco can DH. He provides decent depth to fill that gap at low cost and without hindering development of a young player.

Grant
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Grant
4 years 4 months ago

And he can also DH against lefties at times with Lind sitting and EE at first.

monkeyman
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monkeyman
4 years 4 months ago

The whole point is that the Jays are trying to win this year. AA believes maximizing splits will help them do that. Expect Francisco (LF), Davis (DH and leading off) AND EE (1B) to be in the lineup vs. most lefties this year. Anyone who has actually SEEN Davis play the outfield knows that they had to keep him away playing defense and on the basepaths as much as possible.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 4 months ago

The odd man out should be Adam Lind, who has been strictly a replacement level player the past 2 seasons.

1Adam12
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1Adam12
4 years 4 months ago

I think the article boils down to translating 2 sentences. When the writer says “Not that I think Travis Snider should be handed a job”, he means “I think Travis Snider should be handed a job”. When he says “I know that Snider hasn’t performed optimally” he means “let’s ignore how bad Snider has been and focus on how mediocre Francisco has been”.

Games are frequently won or loss by the ability to pinch hit in the late innings for guys like Snider and Thames and Lind, who when it comes to lefties, couldn’t hit water from a boat.

Chris
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Chris
4 years 4 months ago

This article is well written with lots of statistics to back up your point, but it ignores the staggeringly obvious reason why this will not happen. Both of these players need a full season of atbats either at AAA or MLB to continue their growth.

In my opinion, the reason snider’s development has been stunted to this point is because he was used in the way this article suggests, thus robbing him of a full season’s worth of atbats to work on his weaknesses.

You also claim that Snider has “raked” at AAA. This is not really true either, while in 128 career games in AAA he has hit .333 he has struck out 107 times and only had one good year of power in 2009 when he hit 14 HR in 48 games. in the PCL, i think the AVERAGE BA is .300 or something ridiculous, if you compared sniders numbers to other players in the league, he was not raking, and infact it was clear that others were having more success at that level than he was.

Mike Green
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Mike Green
4 years 4 months ago

It is a very interesting question what the club ought to do with Snider and Thames.

I have some comments on the defensive side of things. Thames has above-average speed, but his instincts in the outfield are poor. He is a very instinctive baserunner, and it would surprise me if he does not improve in the outfield. Snider runs very, very well for a wide-body. He had absolutely terrible instincts in the outfield when he was drafted, but has made tremendous strides forward since. I agree subjectively with the consensus of the defensive metrics which show him as an above-average corner outfielder.

fred holyman
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fred holyman
4 years 4 months ago

What the hell are the Jays thinking? If they send down Travis Snider after the spring he’s had …..they might as well shoot him….and Eric Thames deserves another chance too.
Ben Francisco as the 5th outfielder….you’ve got tto be kidding.
What kind of message does that send Snider and Thames.
If I were Snider and I was sent down againnnnn….I’d ask to be traded to some team that is interested in a great talen.

fred holyman
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fred holyman
4 years 4 months ago

The Jays’ management are tinkering here far too much. Both Snider and Thames should be given a chance to prove themselves. Bringing in Francisco at this point is a kick in the ass to these two young Jays. So much for team morale.
Can you imagine sending Snider down one more time, especially after his great spring effort? If I were Snider, I’d demand to be traded ……screw the Jays.
Either Thames or Snider are likely to outperform Francisco at the plate and more likely in the field

R. Fizzlebeef
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R. Fizzlebeef
4 years 4 months ago

Fred: Snider and Thames have both been told that one will be the Jays starting LF and the other will be sent down. This will be the outcome regardless of Francisco and just about anything short of Bautista, Lind, or Encarnacion going to down to injury for a prolonged time and opening up a starting position.

They’ve known about this since well before spring training, so any grievances towards this would have probably already been voiced.

Seeing as they’re both still with the Jays and playing well right now, I don’t think they mind it all that much.

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