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Bearish on Matt Joyce

This is part of an ongoing pro/con series on RotoGraphs over the next couple of weeks. Today we’ll look at the positive/negative side of Matt Joyce. Expect the opposite side shortly.

As a Rays fan I’m obviously going to have a predisposed affinity for Matt Joyce. He was born and raised in Tampa. He was the return in the trade that sent Edwin Jackson packing to Detroit. Jackson was loved by fans, but not necessarily sabermetricians, so any success for Joyce tastes that much sweeter.

He’s had a great first half — transforming from sleeper to .399 wOBA hitter — but there’s reason to believe that trend will not continue.

I know I wrote a piece about Joyce being a bargain a month ago, but what fun would it be if two people each took the Bullish side of a player? I’m biting the bullet and highlighting Joyce’s flaws.

To me there are two arguments against Joyce going forward.

The first is his batting average on balls in play. It currently sits at a cool .358, and that’s down nearly 50 points from where it was when Joyce was really peaking in May. His batted ball and plate discipline info are fairly similar to what he put up last season when he hit .241/.360./.477 with 10 HR and 40 RBI in 261 PA with a .273 BABiP. Compare that to this season’s .316/.378/.552 with 10 HR and 34 RBI in 238 PA with the .358 BABiP. Joyce was a bit unlucky last season and has been lucky this season. His ISO (.236) is actually exactly the same right now as it was last season. He’s never hit .300 at any level of professional baseball in which he got 100+ PA – his highest was .293 in AAA last year — so expecting him to do it this season is asking a lot. His BABiP has dropped considerably in June, which leads me to my next point.

Matt Joyce has been dealing with a shoulder issue since the start of June. It’s not an injury that has landed him on the DL – he’s only missed a handful of games here and there because of it – but he hasn’t been right at the plate since the news was revealed. He received a cortisone shot in his left shoulder but then missed two games in Baltimore due to “post-injection soreness.” He’s played through the pain, but his June numbers have been dreadful: .128/.192/.255 with four extra base hits and a .147 BABiP in 52 PA. A far cry from the 1.229 OPS he put up in May. His June LD% rate is 5.7% while the FB% is 62.9%. Something is wrong, and I think it starts and ends with his shoulder. As a Rays fan I hope if he’s actually hurt that he goes on the DL and comes back healthy at a later date instead of possibly injuring himself further.

Those two factors make me wonder if you end up even starting Joyce in 10 team mixed leagues. Currently he’s the 49th ranked overall player in Yahoo! leagues. If his current ZiPS projections hold true and he finishes the season hitting .285 with 20 HR and 71 RBI and 8 steals are those the stats of a top 30 outfielder? And those numbers could be generous depending on the severity of his shoulder issue.

Joyce is a better real life player than fantasy player as his plus fielding helps the Rays out immensely. My affection for him burns eternal, but there is an argument to be made that he won’t help you out nearly as much for the remainder of the season as he did in the first few months. Please don’t be mad at me, Matt.