Career Profile: Matt Joyce
The winner of the most recent Guess the Prospect! contest chose Matt Joyce as his topic for a career profile. We did a Not a Rookie on Joyce a couple of years ago, but it is a good time to revisit him and see where things stand.
First, here is what I wrote in 2009.
The Tigers drafted Joyce in the 12th round in 2005, out of Florida Southern College. He had a mediocre junior season and scouts rated his tools as just average, but he had impressed Detroit officials with good performance against them during a spring training scrimmage. His pro debut was very strong: .331/.397/.453 in the New York-Penn League, posting a +26 percent OPS and showing excellent strike zone judgment with 30 walks against 29 strikeouts in 245 at-bats. I rated him as a Grade C+ in the 2006 book, with a sleeper notice, needing to see data from higher levels, but liking the early numbers.
Promoted to West Michigan in the Midwest League in 2006, Joyce hit .258/.338/.415 with 11 homers, 30 doubles, 56 walks, and 70 strikeouts in 465 at-bats. That may not look great on the surface, but his OPS was still positive at +9, and the high walk rate/low strikeout rate combination was still intriguing. I gave him a Grade C entering 2007, noting that he might increase his power and was worth keeping a close eye on.
The Tigers jumped Joyce to Double-A in 2007 and he responded with a .257/.333/.454 mark, with 17 homers. His strikeout rate spiked up to 127 in 456 at-bats, but his walks remained OK and his isolated power increased by 40 points. In the 2008 book, I noted his performance but expressed some concern about his strikeout rate, and the fact that despite the power increase, his OPS relative to league actually dropped to +7 from +9 the year before..
However, there was something about Joyce that made me think I had a chance to develop. I wrote "I have no objective evidence for this, but Joyce strikes me as the kind of player who might be a late bloomer, sneaking up on us maybe in '08, but more likely in ‘09".
As you know, Joyce split 2008 between Triple-A Toledo (.270/.352/.550) and the Tigers, hitting .252/.339/.492.
PECOTA comps aren't glamorous... the best one is Bobby Higginson, showing up at number four on the PECOTA list. PECOTA really hates Joyce, giving him a .226/.306/.404 projection this year. Shandler is much more optimistic at .259/.335/.478 and believes he has 30-homer potential. Given that the Tigers traded Joyce quickly, perhaps they agree more with PECOTA and were selling high.
Personally, I don't think what he did in Detroit last year is a fluke. I think he's a .240.-.260 hitter with solid power from the left side, so my expectation is closer to Shandler than PECOTA. I like the walks, and I like the fact that he doesn't strike out excessively for a guy with power. He's not going to be a star, but he should prove quite useful. Right now he needs to get healthy, as a leg injury has cost him most of spring training.
How do things look now?
Joyce hit just .188 in 11 games for the Rays in '09, but in '10 he hit .241/.360/.477 in 216 at-bats (WAR 1.8), posting a strong 131 OPS+. This year, he's leading the American League with a .358 batting average, with a .410 OBP and .569 SLG, giving him a stunning 177 OPS+. He's 26 years old, so this could be his career peak season in progress.
Joyce is now a career .264/.356/.501 hitter over 697 plate appearances. Put into 162-game notation, it comes out at .264/.356/.501, 130 OPS+, with 33 doubles, 22 homers, 64 walks, and 114 strikeouts in 528 plate appearances. His career WAR is now 4.7, and he's a good defensive outfielder at the corners according to RAA.
Although Joyce is unlikely to sustain a .358 average over the course of a full season, I don't think his overall productivity is a fluke. I thought he'd be a .240-.260 hitter with power and OBP. He's come out on the high side of that expectation. Although the shape of his success (power and OBP) is what his minor league record would imply, the intensity of that success is not fully predicted by his minor league numbers, nor his college performance, which was mediocre.
There was something there, though, that I couldn't put my finger on but was aware of on some level. As I wrote in the 2008 book, "I have no objective evidence for this, but Joyce strikes me as the kind of player who might be a late bloomer." That bloom has been pleasant indeed.