By now, you may have noticed that a couple of our free agent profiles have featured left-handed hitters. I’ve written about Eric Thames and Corey Dickerson on the heels of Steven’s post about the need for lefty pop in the Yankees’ lineup. Today, I’m going to focus on another hitter out of the same mold: Matt Joyce.
Joyce, 35, was drafted by the Tigers in the 12th round of the 2005 draft out of Florida Southern College. He hit very well in Detroit’s minor league system and was a solid prospect, but never appeared on any of the various top-100 lists. In 2008, Joyce made his big league debut for Detroit.
After the season, the Tigers shipped Joyce to the Rays in exchange for Edwin Jackson. It’s kind of cool that Joyce was involved in one of the six (!) trades that Jackson was a part of. Anyway, Joyce bounced between the minors and majors for the Rays in 2009 and 2010 before entrenching himself in Tampa by the end of 2010.
A few years later, Tampa Bay dumped Joyce a year in advance of his impending free agency. The Rays dealt him to the Angels in December of 2014 and received reliever Kevin Jepsen in return. The outfielder spent one disappointing year on the west coast before hitting the open market, where he was only able to get a minor league deal from the Pirates.
Joyce found his footing in Pittsburgh and re-entered free agency after the 2016 season. This time, he was able to obtain a major league deal from Oakland, who gave him a two year deal for $11 million. Joyce got off to a strong start in Oakland, but he fell off in year two and again had to settle for a minor league deal with an invite to spring training this year.
One more important thing to note before we get to how he wound up with the Braves: Joyce was suspended for two games in 2017 for calling a fan an anti-gay slur. He apologized, served his suspension, and participated in an initiative with PLFAG, an organization supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Entering 2019, Joyce signed two minor league deals with spring training invites before finally landing in Atlanta. Cleveland signed and released Joyce, he Giants signed him, and then finally dealt him to Atlanta for cash before the end of camp, who put him on its major league roster. Now, following a strong campaign, he’s a free agent once again.
The 35 year-old outfielder owns a .243/.343/.432 (114 wRC+) triple-slash with 145 homers and 14.9 WAR in 4,138 career plate appearances. He’s very patient at the plate, as evidenced by his 12.7 percent lifetime walk rate and his monster 2016 rate of 20.1 percent. He also makes decent a decent contact (21.9 percent career) with moderate power (.188 ISO), though the latter has lacked over the past two years.
Joyce is a platoon-only guy — he can’t hit left-handed pitching. In his career, he’s hit .188/.272/.309 (63 wRC+) against southpaws and .252/.354/.452 (122 wRC+) against righties. That may not be such a big deal anymore because of the new batters faced minimum.
Like for so many other lefties, Yankee Stadium would be a great fit for the pull-heavy Joyce. He’s pulled just under 43 percent of batted balls the last two years and peaked at 45 percent in 2016. He also hits the ball in the air quite a bit, which would benefit him in the Bronx. Last but not least, his exit velocities and barrel percentages have been at or above MLB average annually since 2016.
Joyce is coming off a solid season with Atlanta in which he was a role player and received 238 plate appearances in 129 games. He hit .295/.408/.450 (128 wRC+) with seven homers, which is a nice campaign in limited action. However, it was his second consecutive year with lighter power numbers. Previously, Joyce recorded 25 homers and a .230 ISO for Oakland in 2017, but since then, he has just 14 dingers in 484 plate appearances (though his health in 2018 may have been an issue — more on that shortly). Still, as evidenced by an on-base percentage starting wtih a 4, his ability to reach base is still excellent.
Defensively, Joyce is fine in the outfield corners. Per FRAA, Baseball Prospectus’s fielding metric du jour, he’s been above average each of the last three years. DRS and UZR have him a little below average. Meanwhile, Statcast’s Outs Above Average pegs him as…average.
Joyce’s injury history isn’t too daunting. He’s spent time on the shelf in 2010 (elbow strain), 2012 (lower back tightness), 2015 (concussion), and 2018 (lumbar strain). His injuries in 2018 are perhaps the most notable because (a) they’re the most recent and (b) they severely hampered his performance.
In 2018, Joyce first hit the disabled list in early June because of the initial lumbar strain and returned in the final week of the month. However, a week into July, the outfielder returned to the DL with the same lower back malady. He didn’t play again until September and finished with a measly 90 wRC+. There’s a good chance that the injury hindered his power output that season.
The good news is that the injury didn’t reoccur this year and he avoided the injured list all season. That said, at 35 years of age, Joyce’s durability likely isn’t getting any better. He’s probably better off not in an everyday role, though it’s not like he would be anyway given his stark platoon splits.
Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing estimates a one year deal for $2 million. MLB Trade Rumors and Jim Bowden did not project a contract for him.
Does he make sense for the Yankees?
He does, though I think the Dickerson or Thames routes make more sense as they possess more power. There’s also the fans response to consider regarding his suspension a few years ago. Still, the Yankees may find Joyce attactive because he’ll be a bargain. He could save them a few million dollars over the alternatives I just noted.
There’s a reason he’ll be a cheaper alternative, too. He’s older and his stats year-to-year have been a bit more volatile. His ugly 2015 and 2018 campaigns are nestled in with good seasons surrounding, whereas someone like Dickerson has been more consistent for a few years now. Ultimately, Joyce is an option for the Yankees, but not probably shouldn’t be plan A, B, or probably even C for left-handed pop.