Wednesday, April 25, 2012
This Tricky Thing with Thames and Travis
Maybe it was guilt over having gleefully dumped over a player who still pulls on the uniform of our favourite team, and whose success and failure still impacts on the Blue Jays' ability to win games so long as he's here. (Setting aside the question as to whether he should be here, at least for a few paragraphs.)
Maybe it was sheepishness, after he crushed a pitch far into the nether regions of Oriole Park to square up the score at one apiece. Or maybe it was sympathy, after seeing the mountainous dogpile of Jays fans who leaped onto social media to heap scorn on Thames after a ball went off his outstretched glove and into the stands for what turned out to be the winning run.
Before the season began, we felt as though the Jays' brain trust was leaning in the wrong direction when it came to the choice of which young outfielder they would carry on the active roster this year, and by all appearances, most of you fall into the same camp that we do. The prevailing winds fill the sails of #TeamSnider, and for good reason. From what we've observed, he's a better all-around player than Thames, and he's never really been given the opportunity to start a season without the spectre of a demotion hanging over his head.
It could be that the Jays were attempting to avoid making the same mistake with Thames, and decided that they would give him the opportunity to prove himself without a fear of failure. And let's face it: Baseball is a game of failure, and part of the development of that tool between a player's ears is shedding the fear that a bad at bat or a dropped ball will result in the end of their baseball dream. So if Travis never got that chance, maybe we should be on board with Thames getting the benefit of some patience.
The problem for us is that Thames doesn't seem to be suited to the role in which he's been placed. Even with the work he put in over the offseason, it looks as though the process of fielding a fly ball is a bit like speaking a foreign language: He'll always be tentative, and he'll never convince you that it comes to him easily.
The hitting is another thing altogether. If you look at some of his plate discipline numbers, it seems as though he's made a correction for the better, with his swing percentage falling from 51.3% to 44.2% so far this season, and his percentage of swings at pitches out of the strike zone falling from 37.9% to 30.3%. But in the ongoing story of "adjusting to the adjustments", opponents are pounding the zone on Thames, getting first-pitch strikes on him 69.4% of the time.
Parsing through those numbers, we get the impression that Thames has taken direction and understood the strategy and done his best to apply it, but it is not one that suits his skill set. This is a guy who was meant to grip and rip and swing at the first good fastball/meatball he sees, usually posting a low on-base percentage but a high batting average. That's who we think he is, and that's not the profile of a player that we'd want to pursue, but maybe -hopefully - he'll prove us wrong.
There's no question in our mind that Thames is working hard, and wants to succeed with every fibre of his being. He also seems to be a pretty likeable guy, and in a different set of circumstances, we'd be pulling for him. If we scan the roster, he's probably the guy to whom we'd relate best on a personal level. Which is why we feel a certain pang of apprehension when it comes to running him out of town and back to Vegas this early in the season. Yes, we understand that this is the lamest rationale for rooting for a player, and it's beneath us to give a fadoo about how nice a guy he is. But when you're tearing down a man's work - his livelihood, for goodness sake - it starts to feel like you're questioning his worth. And there's nothing fun about that.
Travis Snider is an Outfielder. End of Discussion.
Maybe you wouldn't be surprised to hear this, but over the past few months, we've received dozens of inquiries about the possibility of the Jays moving Travis Snider to first base. Maybe it's a whim, or an idle suggestion, and maybe it isn't unprecedented for a stocky outfielder to move to the position. But to put this notion to rest, let's go through the reasons why this is a bad idea.
1) You don't just stick someone at 1B: This isn't your softball team. It might not be the most demanding defensive position, but remember that Adam Lind - who had played the position in college - ground his back into a lumpy pulp taking thousands of ground balls and short hops at first base. And he still struggles with the footwork.
Travis Snider has never played first base professionally, and we've never heard anyone mention that he played it at any point in his life. Would he know his way around the bag? Has he even seen a hard hit grounder that didn't take ten bounces on the outfield grass to reach him? And why would you want to attempt such a stunt at this point in his career? And what would such a move communicate to 29 other organizations?
2) Travis Snider is a good outfielder: Pretty self-explanatory, but worth reiterating. He's a good outfielder. He moves well, reads the ball well of the bat, and charges balls well. Let him stay where he's needed.
3) We have enough problems as it is: If you move Snider to first, what do you do with Adam Lind? And don't say "Just release him", because that's only a solution in your fantasy leagues. He's and asset, and the Jays would do well to help burnish his value and maybe protect him versus some lefties to bump up his numbers. Also, what would such a move mean for Edwin Encarnacion's playing time? Are you squeezing him into a 1B-DH rotation at this point? And who goes down to make room for him anyway?
We get that many of you are as eager as we are to see Travis Snider back in a Blue Jays uniform. But we haven't even made it through a month of games yet, and we should accept the fact that he won't make his return until a regular spot in the lineup opens for him. But that will happen when it happens.