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2021 report card: Matt Joyce

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A roll of the preseason dice ended up a pretty bad bet

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Philadelphia Phillies Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies took a chance on several veterans in spring training by signing them to minor league deals that had larger than normal guarantees if they made the initial roster. It’s not the worst strategy in the world to employ to try and stock your bench and bullpen. With Matt Joyce, it just didn’t work out.

2021 stats

.091/.261/.218, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 16:12 K:BB, 32 wRC+, -0.6 fWAR

The good

There was one game where he hit a home run against the Giants. I know; I was there. And according to his stat line, he hit another one. Without looking it up, who was it against?

The bad

Everything.

Instead of rehashing Joyce’s tenure with the team, let’s talk about why he was brought in in the first place.

The bench for the Phillies the past few seasons has been suspect at best. They have struggled to find someone to give them good quality bench play/pinch hitting appearances since the days of Greg Dobbs. It’s not something you can really prepare a player for in the minor leagues since pinch hitting is so rare there. Instead, the team decided to try and grab a few guys on minor league deals in the hopes they would be able to play productive roles coming off of the bench, giving them good at bats in a pinch.

Is that the right approach though?

Other teams have created rosters that are stocked with players who can play multiple positions on the field, able to get into the lineup pretty regularly since players are rotated in order to keep the whole roster fresh throughout the slog of a 162 game season. We can point at the Dodgers and note they had at least three players who can play shortstop (Corey Seager, Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor) and the dropoff is minimal in terms of production. Sure, you want to have a regular there, but with players getting nicked and dinged all the time, it’s helpful to have another player who can step in and do a solid job. The upside of this is that those players who can move around the diamond are also playing with a decent amount of regularity, something many players say helps them with timing at the plate. Therefore, my hypothesis going into this was that teams who rotate players in and out of the lineup tend to have better numbers coming from their pinch hitters.

To look at this, I compared the Phillies with the rest of the league in 2021 to see how the pinch hitters have fared.

Pinch hitters in 2021

Rk Team Split G sOPS+ PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Rk Team Split G sOPS+ PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 TBR as PH 82 147 120 96 15 24 8 0 3 26 0 0 20 31 0.250 0.378 0.427 0.805
2 DET as PH 57 145 72 64 8 17 5 0 3 12 1 1 6 20 0.266 0.324 0.484 0.808
3 CLE as PH 62 138 89 77 10 18 4 0 4 9 1 0 12 28 0.234 0.337 0.442 0.779
4 SEA as PH 72 136 101 87 14 23 3 0 3 11 2 0 10 27 0.264 0.366 0.402 0.769
5 NYM as PH 146 130 292 264 31 68 21 0 8 48 2 0 23 80 0.258 0.325 0.428 0.753
6 HOU as PH 61 125 94 81 9 19 5 0 3 13 0 0 12 36 0.235 0.330 0.407 0.737
7 CHC as PH 149 120 306 272 38 70 15 0 6 40 3 4 30 81 0.257 0.337 0.379 0.715
8 SFG as PH 154 119 406 346 50 69 16 1 18 51 4 1 47 118 0.199 0.310 0.408 0.718
9 NYY as PH 62 118 94 78 12 17 2 0 3 15 0 0 16 29 0.218 0.351 0.359 0.710
10 BAL as PH 64 114 85 73 8 17 3 2 1 15 0 1 10 23 0.233 0.329 0.370 0.699
11 PIT as PH 146 112 289 254 26 59 6 2 9 38 2 3 28 84 0.232 0.314 0.378 0.692
12 COL as PH 143 111 278 257 30 60 8 4 10 38 0 0 15 77 0.234 0.281 0.413 0.693
13 STL as PH 143 106 256 214 27 42 7 0 9 30 5 1 34 64 0.196 0.318 0.355 0.673
14 ATL as PH 148 105 272 234 41 43 13 1 10 40 1 0 33 71 0.184 0.295 0.376 0.671
15 WSN as PH 142 104 282 256 29 62 12 1 6 22 0 2 20 85 0.242 0.301 0.367 0.669
16 OAK as PH 100 103 158 145 12 35 6 0 5 26 1 0 8 36 0.241 0.280 0.386 0.667
17 ARI as PH 145 101 336 293 36 60 12 1 10 35 0 0 34 100 0.205 0.301 0.355 0.656
18 BOS as PH 74 92 92 77 8 17 3 0 1 11 0 1 11 32 0.221 0.322 0.299 0.621
19 LAD as PH 143 91 274 239 34 48 5 0 9 34 4 2 21 89 0.201 0.288 0.335 0.623
20 KCR as PH 64 89 80 73 2 16 2 2 1 10 0 0 6 28 0.219 0.275 0.343 0.618
21 TEX as PH 66 83 88 78 5 17 5 0 1 9 1 0 6 28 0.218 0.276 0.321 0.596
22 SDP as PH 146 80 305 266 28 55 13 0 3 28 6 2 30 77 0.207 0.295 0.290 0.584
23 CIN as PH 143 80 299 261 32 49 9 2 6 27 1 3 24 91 0.188 0.278 0.307 0.584
24 MIL as PH 143 76 292 239 31 39 5 0 7 29 6 0 45 92 0.163 0.298 0.272 0.570
25 PHI as PH 141 76 275 239 33 45 8 0 5 25 3 1 30 86 0.188 0.287 0.285 0.571
26 MIA as PH 140 73 270 232 19 43 8 2 3 18 1 1 27 74 0.185 0.286 0.276 0.562
27 MIN as PH 79 69 111 97 4 19 6 0 0 4 1 0 11 38 0.196 0.288 0.258 0.546
28 CHW as PH 59 65 83 74 10 12 0 0 3 10 0 0 7 31 0.162 0.253 0.284 0.537
29 TOR as PH 75 46 100 90 7 15 3 1 0 3 0 0 9 26 0.167 0.250 0.222 0.472
30 LAA as PH 53 25 74 65 8 10 1 0 0 9 0 1 4 22 0.154 0.233 0.169 0.402

That’s a lot of information.

It’s not really confirming my theory about teams rotating players and how it can keep them fresh, but it is interesting to note of that of the three of the teams that platoon, rotate, move players in and out of the lineup the most (or at least are known for it) - the Giants, Rays and Dodgers - all have an OPS+ for this particular split over 100, or in the Dodgers’ case, near 100.

In any case, this goes back to the issue of roster construction. Is it better to have 12-14 position players who can play multiple positions at roughly average to slightly above average (think 2-4 WAR), or take the “stars and scrubs” approach and build around two or three 5-6 WAR players by using players in the 1-2 WAR category?

It’s pretty clear that the Phillies chose the latter, using Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto to build around, hope a few others play to their 70th-80th percentile projections, then fill in the rest with freely available talent. That’s where the signing of Joyce comes in and that’s where the flaws start to show. By relying on players that are really only going to get 150-200 plate appearances, the roster becomes top heavy with little room for error past the stars of the team. It’s a roster construction issue that the team needs to address this offseason.

The future

There is none with the Phillies; he was already released by the team in late September. Unless there is some sort of incriminating evidence he possesses of a member of the organization, Joyce will be somewhere else in 2022.

Final grade: F

It’s not Joyce’s fault that he was bad. There may have been some hope that he could catch fire and possibly platoon in left field with Andrew McCutchen, taking the strong side of that platoon. The issue is that he just never hit. That’s that he was brought in to do - provide pop off the bench and possibly push for playing time. He did neither.