Tommy Joseph 2016 was a revelation. Platooning with Ryan Howard for the first half of the season and then playing almost full-time at first for the second half, Joseph hit 21 home runs as a rookie and posted an .813 OPS.
Tommy Joseph 2017 is a major concern. He is one of the worst position players in baseball so far this year, posting a .530 OPS and only 2 home runs through the first month of the season.
Adding to Joseph's misery is that Rhys Hoskins is tearing it up at AAA. Hoskins has 6 home runs and a 1.063 OPS through 23 games for the Iron Pigs. Each one of Hoskins' triple slash components is improved over his excellent 2016 for Reading.
So is it time to worry about Tommy Joseph and purchase our Rhys Hoskins shirseys?
Well, if you look at his splits against right-handed versus left-handed pitching so far this year, I think the answer is a very clear "not yet."
Without checking, here's what a logical assumption might be about Joseph's early struggles in 2017: Joseph, a right-handed hitter who had a sort-of platoon with lefty Ryan Howard last year, could be struggling now that he's not in a platoon. He did better last year against left-handed pitching, but now that he's facing a steady diet of righties as well, he hasn't been able to adjust.
That's an entirely reasonable assumption; however, it's not borne out by the facts. Which is why I think it makes sense not to worry yet about Joseph long-term this season.
So far, here are Joseph's splits in 2017:
Against righties: .224/.283/.327 in 53 plate appearances.
Against lefties: .091/.125/.227 in 24 plate appearances.
Or, stated differently, Joseph's OPS is .258 higher against righties (.610) than against lefties (.352). He's certainly not doing well against righties, but he's within the ordinary realm of struggling (68 sOPS+). Against lefties, though, he's downright putrid (-2 sOPS+).
The encouraging news here is that this is completely out of line with Joseph's career, both in the minors and last year in the majors. He has never really struggled hitting lefties. In fact, he's almost always been a better hitter against lefties than righties. Here's a chart of his OPS splits through last year (only 2016 in the majors):
Putting his concussion-shortened 2013 aside (only 36 games), it's clear that Joseph has never struggled with hitting lefties at every level of baseball. In fact, in most of his seasons and again at all levels, he has done much better hitting lefties than righties, with 5 of his 7 professional seasons hitting over .800 OPS against lefties.
Which is why it's hard to think that Tommy Joseph is cooked. This season, he has struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers. A .352 OPS is downright embarrassing.
But there's no reason to think that Joseph has suddenly forgotten how to do what he has made a living doing so far -- feasting off of lefties. His track record against them is just too good, especially compared to how he hits righties.
As always, past performance is no guarantee of the future, but in this case, it's a strong indicator that we should wait out Joseph's slump against lefties and then enjoy him when he once again gets locked in against them.