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