Matt Joyce season endured a roller coaster season in his first year as the main right fielder for the Rays. Batting .370 over the season’s first two months, Joyce hit just .226 for the remainder of the season. Joyce was expected to be a platoon player, but he was hitting so well during the early parts of the year that the Rays allowed him to start 15 games against left-handed pitchers. The experiment did not go well, as Joyce hit just .151/.244/.233 against left-handed starters
Entering this season, it looks like the Rays are accepting the fact that Joyce is a platoon partner. In signing Jeff Keppinger, owner of a .302/.360/.432 line against lefties, the Rays will most likely employ a platoon of Keppinger playing second base against lefties and Joyce playing right field against righties, with Ben Zobrist moving back and forth between the two positions. This is a wise baseball decision, as both struggle against pitchers of their same handedness but are very good against opposite handed pitchers.
In fantasy, using Joyce in this same manner can provide value. Joyce hit .292/.361/.505 against righties, with 16 home runs, 60 RBI, and 13 steals, which are pretty solid fantasy numbers. In games where a right-hander was the starter, Joyce hit an even better .301/.366/.524 with 18 home runs. Hitters are expected to receive a roughly 10% discount in production when used as a pinch-hitter, which an owner would not be doing if they play Joyce as suggested. The previously mentioned stats are over 108 games and are very valuable in the smaller sample.
While there is no way to platoon Joyce with say, Andruw Jones, due to scheduling differences, platooning Joyce with an expected every day outfielder such as Lucas Duda could make for a solid contribution from that outfield spot. While you likely will not get Joyce’s level of production against right-handers from a replacement, you can still receive value when he misses games. While you will not get an every day player when drafting Joyce, value of replacement level does exist in fantasy formats. Getting a solid bench outfielder to put in on Joyce’s days off against lefties can make for a respectable tandem.
The Rays focus heavily on flexibility, both offensively and defensively. While the norm in fantasy leagues is to draft and start players who you plan to put into your lineup every day, players like Joyce can put up impressive numbers if utilized appropriately.
Logan Morrison and Andre Ethier are being drafted ahead of Joyce, although he had the highest wRC+ of the three last season. Joyce’s substantial value against right-handers is an asset that can be utilized by drafting him in the mid-rounds and finding a suitable bench outfielder to fill in when the team faces lefties. In order to take advantage of this, the league needs to be a daily league and owners need to be sure to follow expected matchups intensely. If you are reading this post and this site, the latter is already expected. Employ Joyce in a platoon like Joe Maddon and the Rays do, which should make for a solid aggregate outfielder.