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Travis Snider in Adam Lind’s Footsteps

Young Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider is off to another rough start. After spring rumblings that Snider would have to “earn his spot on the roster,” he apparently did so. After 34 plate appearances, Snider’s line is .107/.265/.179 for a .195 wOBA, and astounding 6 wRC+. If you’re reading this, I don’t have to tell you that 34 plate appearances don’t mean anything significant for anyone, whether it’s the first two weeks, the last two weeks, or 34 PA randomly selected from different points in the year. Still, it’s hardly what people expected from Snider. So it is already time for another predictable “don’t panic on player x” post.

As a reminder: in 2008, when he was 20, Snider hit .262/.357/.461 with a .366 wOBA in AA , then in a brief stint (70 PA) at AAA hit .344/.386/.519 with a .399 wOBA, then more than held his own in a September call-up (.301/.338/.466, .345 wOBA). At 21, he demolished AAA pitching (.337/.431/.663, .462 wOBA) but wasn’t nearly as dominating in 276 plate appearances in the majors (.241/.328/.419, .327 wOBA). While that line was no doubt disappointing, it was a league average offense performance (100 wRC+) for a hitter of only 21, so he wasn’t lost. Snider’s main problem so far is strikeouts, averaging between 25% and 30% in the minors, and over 30% in the majors, although his walk rate remains above average. According to pitch type linear weights by count, Snider does well against major-league fastballs and is less effective against other pitches, as is stereotypical for many young hitters. Contact is Snider’s primary problem at the plate, although his O-Swing percentage has improved each season in the majors. The monstrous power he has shown in the minors hasn’t translated to the majors yet, but it has been above average. Youth is clearly on Snider’s side. He’s at an age where the his current problems — strike zone judgement and contact — are usually still improving, as is (frighteningly) power.

Snider has been highly regarded as a hitting prospect for some time, but we also know that many highly-regarded prospects disappoint. No guarantees are to be found here, but it’s worth thinking about why patience in Snider is likely to be rewarded (and hopefully this patience will be displayed by the Blue Jays as well, who have absolutely nothing to lose by giving Snider every chance possible in the majors this season).

Snider’s fellow Blue Jay Adam Lind is the obvious comparison. Lind also destroyed the minors, but after than his brief call up in 2006, Lind raked in the minors in 2007 and 2008 while struggling in the majors (.238/.278/.400, .291 wOBA in 2007 and .282/.316/.439, .325 wOBA in 2008). But in 2009… well, all this is also well-known, but its relevance to Snider is that in in 2007 and 2008, during which Lind didn’t hit as well in the majors as Snider did in 2009, Lind was 23 and 24 years old, whereas Snider was only 21 last season. Everyone ages differently, but the younger a player is, the more rapid the upward ascent is likely to be.

Lind never had as severe a strikeout problem as Snider, although he doesn’t take as many walk, either. Nonetheless, both of those statistics have improved year-by-year for Lind, as has his success against offspeed and breaking pitches. Lind is far superior in terms of making contact, which remains the biggest single offensive concern for Snider, but it’s not an insurmountable problem, given Snider’s age and incredible power potential. Young players are can improve quickly when given the chance, and Adam Lind provides an example of the general rule that should give Travis Snider some breathing room.