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Will Matt Joyce Ever Hit Again?

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The former Ray was supposed to provide left-handed production in the middle of the Angels' order. Should the Halos count on him to bounce back in the second half?

Joyce strikes out again
Joyce strikes out again
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When the Angels sent Kevin Jepsen to St. Petersburg for Matt Joyce, most of us gave Jerry DiPoto the thumbs up for leveraging Jepsen's career season into a decent lefty bat. It turned to sheer exuberance once the Hamilton bomb dropped. Joyce was to be a stabilizing, patient force in the line-up. At worst, a decent platoon option with Cron and Cowgill.

Then the season started. Joyce looked completely overmatched, hitting .134/.181/.360 in the month of April. May was no kinder, even after hitting three home runs in a four-game span to finish up the month. Thus far in the month of June, he is 6-for-35. So yeah, Joyce has struggled, like many of the fringe DH-types the Angels have imported over the years. Before DiPoto writes him off and dives into this year's extremely shallow trade market, is there anything in the data that suggests Joyce has just been super unlucky?

First, the good news - he still knows how to take a pitch! Sure, it's an "old player" skill and he's always had decent plate discipline. But to maintain an above-average walk rate while looking pathetically helpless with a bat in your hands is still something. Hell, I'd take him over Aybar at lead-off for that reason alone. Unfortunately, he's not giving pitchers any reason to throw around him, so his overall walk rate is a full two percentage points below his career average.

Perusing his batted-ball data, there are reasons for concern. His strike out rate has increased for the third straight year, while the power numbers continue to drop. His SLG plummet:

2011 - .478

2012 - .429

2013 - .419

2014 - .383

2015 - .310

Clearly, there's some sour luck in there. Guys don't usually fall off the map at age 30. After all, his BAbip this season is just .218, well below the .283 he's managed in his career. Is Joyce simply hitting balls right at people? Has he fallen victim to the over-shift phenomenon?

With MLB making Statcast available to the public, many of the top analytical sites now track velocity off the bat, allowing us to filter out any results-based noise and pinpoint how hard a batter hits the ball when he makes contact. For the sake of simplicity, we will use the Fangraphs application, which breaks down the percentage of balls struck soft, medium and hard for each player. Here is your top ten:

Player

Soft%

Medium%

Hard%

1. G. Stanton

15.3%

33.1%

51.6%

2. B. Belt

9.8%

45.5%

44.8%

3. T. Tulowitzki

14.2%

41.4%

44.4%

4. M. Cabrera

9.5%

46.4%

44.1%

5. F. Freeman

9.3%

47.0%

43.7%

6. J. Pederson

13.2%

43.4%

43.4%

7. P. Goldschmidt

8.2%

48.5%

43.3%

8. T. Frazier

18.1%

38.9%

43.0%

9. M. Trout

12.9%

44.7%

42.5%

10. R. Braun

15.7%

42.8%

41.6%

None of the names listed above should be too surprising. Of 166 qualified batters, the median percentage belongs to Hanley Ramirez, who hits the ball hard 30.5% of the time he makes contact. Where does Matt Joyce fall on this chart?

Player

Soft%

Medium%

Hard%

139. Y. Escobar

18.6%

57.5%

23.9%

140. D. Fowler

17.9%

58.2%

23.9%

141. M. Joyce

20.0%

56.2%

23.9%

You probably don't want to see a guy who should be a DH sitting amongst defensive specialists. It is believed that batted ball velocity stabilizes almost immediately, roughly 15 plate appearances. At 84.09 AVG MPH, Joyce sits near the bottom of the league with lightweights such as Michael Bourn (83.92 MPH) and James Loney (84.1 MPH). So the 8% drop in hard-hit balls from last year is likely real and correlates with the rest of his declining contact numbers:

Year

Line Drive%

HR/FB%

Pull%

2013

20.3%

12.7%

48.9%

2014

19.1%

7.6%

44.0%

2015

15.6%

7.1%

41.1%

While Joyce continues to make contact at roughly the same rate as his career average - 74.7% this season vs. 76.2% lifetime - all other signs point to diminishing bat speed. Considering Joyce was never especially athletic or powerful, his sudden drop-off probably shouldn't be all that surprising. We certainly did not need StatCast or Fangraphs to tell us a 42 year-old Raul Ibanez had nothing left. Our eyes don't deceive us when it comes to Joyce, either. While his solid batting eye could still make him useful enough to keep around as a pinch hitter, DiPoto would be best served finding both a left fielder and DH as soon as possible, as Matt's days as even a platoon player are likely over.