Travis Jankowski and a Sub-Optimal Approach

The Padres have had an interesting year both on and off the field from the GM getting suspended for hiding medical information to trying to convert Christian Bethancourt into a Swiss Army Knife. One of the least interesting things about the Padres was the on-field product. In Year 2 of Prellermania, the Padres lost 94 games and spent time stocking the farm for 2018 and beyond. At present, there are few players of interest on the Padres. The one I find most interesting, however, is Travis Jankowski.

Jankowski just delivered 2.1 WAR playing in 131 games, primarily in CF, making him a useful player. A majority of this production comes from his defense and base-running, where he racked up 8 DRS and 3.1 BsR to make up for a below-average 82 wRC+. With that said, I believe Jankowski has additional upside that teams looking to upgrade in CF could target. Jankowski has some interesting metrics once you look past his surface stats that indicate there could be more upside than initially meets the eye.

This past season, Jankowski rated sixth in GB% at 58.4%, putting him in the company of Dee Gordon and Eric Hosmer. Jankowski also paced the league in going the other way, with an Oppo% of 39.1%. It seems obvious that Jankowski’s approach is to smack the ball the other way and let his 70-grade speed do the rest. Diving into Statcast, we find that Jankowski had an average launch angle of 2.4 degrees, and an average exit velocity of 86.2 MPH, backing up what we know about Jankowski’s groundball tendencies.

Diving deeper is where it gets interesting. I found that Jankowski had an average EV of 83.5 MPH on balls above 10 degrees compared to 90.8 MPH on balls below 10 degrees. In simpler terms, Jankowski makes a majority of his hard contact on the ground. Given his status as a lefty-hit / righty-throw guy, this makes some sense as a guy whose bottom, more dominant hand pulls the bat through the zone early, making it more difficult to get the ball up in the air. Still intrigued, I wanted to find hitters with similar EVs on launch angles below 10 degrees and came up with the following:

Name Exit Velocity 2016 wRC+
Jason Heyward 91.52 72
Ben Revere 90.99 47
Tyler Saladino 90.88 93
Travis Jankowski 90.84 82
Xander Bogaerts 90.69 113
Jace Peterson 90.56 95
Alexei Ramirez 90.44 63
Cesar Hernandez 90.4 108
Martin Prado 90.35 109
James Loney 90.26 89
J.T. Realmuto 90.25 107
Denard Span 90.24 96
Average 90.6 90

 

This is an interesting group of players, headlined by superstar Xander Bogaerts and the solid Martin Prado, and yet it also includes the disappointing Jason Heyward and the DFA’d Alexei Ramirez. If anything, it shows how razor-thin the margin is for players with this type of profile.

Next, I looked at the same group’s batted-ball profile and took the average of their hit type and hit distribution to compare to Jankowski’s and came up with the following:

 Name LD% GB% FB% PULL% CENT% OPPO%
Jankowski 26% 58% 16% 24% 37% 39%
Average 22% 51% 27% 38% 36% 27%

 

Looking at their batted-ball distributions, Jankowski stands as somewhat of an outlier in this group. Most notable is his how he rarely pulls the ball in favor of going the other way. With these tendencies, Jankowski is actually depressing his own value with the bat. When Jankowski goes the other way, he has an average EV of 84.5 MPH. Compare this to pulled balls, where his average EV is 89.1 MPH. In most cases, pulled balls are always going to be hit harder, but for someone as extreme as Jankowski, the opposite-field approach may be suppressing his overall offensive production. If Jankowski shifts his approach to drive more balls with authority to the pull side, he could push his bat closer to the league-average mark. As noted, Jankowski is a 70 runner and the additional chances on base would only serve to increase his base-running value. With these changes we are looking at a potential league-average bat from a guy who already has above-average defensive and base-running skills. This would be an insanely valuable piece. As we have seen, the trade market does not value defensive value the same as offense, so the acquisition price shouldn’t be prohibitive.

To have maximum value, Jankowski has to play CF, but with top prospect Manny Margot about ready to take over the position full-time, the Padres may deem Jankowski expendable. For teams not willing to pay the prospect price for Charlie Blackmon or not wanting to see Yoenis Cespedes play CF again, Jankowski represents an under-the-radar acquisition that could be had for a reasonable price. Given his skillset, Jankowski shouldn’t rack up the traditional counting stats rewarded in arbitration, and he could provide excellent value throughout his years of control. The Padres as a whole may not be very interesting but they have an interesting player in Travis Jankowski, who could provide immense value to a team with the foresight to acquire his services.



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