Don’t Give Up on Devon Travis

Devon Travis is having a rough start to the 2017 season. As I’m writing this, he has “hit” .148/.207/.222, good for a wRC+ of 16 and WAR of -0.5. Fans are openly wondering if he should be sent back to triple-A. But all is not lost! If you look past the surface stats, there is hope for the young Blue Jay. Let’s explore.

Statcast just released some new data for us to play with and it’s pretty awesome. The one bit we’re going to use today is the “estimated wOBA” — a figure computed per batted ball based only on launch angle and exit velocity. From this, we can get a “projected wOBA” for the hitter with the following formula:

pWOBA = ( SUM(eWOBA) + 0.72*BB + 0.75*HBP )/PA

where SUM(eWOBA) is the sum of all the estimated wOBAs on batted balls. Even though we only have a month’s worth of data at this point, we see a very good relationship between the projected wOBA and actual. Good job, Statcast folks! (Click through for an interactive version)

With this in mind, we can look at the top overperformers and underperformers in April. First, the overachievers:

wOBA overachievers, April 2017
Name wOBA proj_wOBA Difference
Zack Cozart 0.441 0.335 0.106
Ryan Zimmerman 0.553 0.449 0.104
Steven Souza Jr. 0.409 0.319 0.090
Eric Thames 0.519 0.434 0.085
Starlin Castro 0.407 0.326 0.081

No huge surprises here. Zack Cozart wasn’t going to flirt with .400 all year, Ryan Zimmerman was always going to come back down a bit, and nobody can hit like Eric Thames has over a full season (though the Brewers and Nats would be thrilled if Thames and Zim can keep their wOBAs above .400). I don’t think we’ve learned anything we didn’t already know.

Now let’s look at the underachievers.

wOBA underachievers, April 2017
Name wOBA proj_wOBA Difference
Devon Travis 0.179 0.313 -0.134
Joe Mauer 0.244 0.356 -0.112
Maikel Franco 0.283 0.376 -0.093
Manny Machado 0.332 0.423 -0.091
Hanley Ramirez 0.314 0.405 -0.091

Much more interesting names here. Joe Mauer isn’t as bad as he’s been, Maikel Franco is due for a breakout, and Manny Machado and Hanley Ramirez look like they should be lighting the AL East on fire. But hey, there’s Devon Travis sitting at the #1 spot. How about that?

Now, for him to be occupying this spot, he has had to run into some bad luck at some point. And we can quantify that bad luck! Let’s take a look at the three unluckiest outs Devon Travis hit into in April, as measured by their estimated wOBA.

#3. Estimated wOBA: 0.751

Uh … what? This doesn’t look all that impressive. Statcast tells us that this ball was hit at 99.9 MPH but with a high launch angle of 34.5 degrees. I have to assume that the relatively high estimated wOBA comes from balls like this leaving the yard if they’re down the lines, because if they stay in the park, it sure seems to me like they’d turn into easy outs like this one. Moving on …

#2. Estimated wOBA: 0.811

That’s more like it. This looked like a sure base hit off the bat but a terrific diving play by Steven Souza — who was playing shallow at the time — kept it from dropping in. This ball wasn’t hit nearly as hard as the previous one, clocking in at only 90.5 MPH, but the low angle made it a very likely base hit.

#1. Estimated wOBA: 1.082

Dexter Fowler took a bit of a circuitous route to this ball, but it was still a tough play given that he had to turn his back to the infield and then fight the sun. With a different angle this might be a home run or a double, but as it is, it’s just a tough out.

Statcast is the gift that keeps on giving. This new tool is phenomenal and I’m sure there’s more we can do with it than just this simple analysis. But for now, it’s a quick way to see which hitters are more likely to regress one way or another in the coming months. Something to keep an eye on for sure.

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