Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This Tricky Thing with Thames and Travis

Just a few hours after purposefully burying Eric Thames at the bottom of our completely meaningless Power Rankings, we felt a twinge of something.

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.


wamco said...

Oh boy I hate that 'bump up his numbers' crap. Counting on opposing GM's being suckered in by a hot month is just incredibly foolish. Even if you want to go back to something like the YEscobar deal, remember that Gonzalez was a plus defender at a premium position while Lind is below average at the least important position on the diamond. Not saying it can't/hasn't happened, just that banking on those odds is a bad idea.

The easy (and obvious) solution is to bench the bum, swallow the money he's owed and move on with the players who actually have a chance at being part of the longterm future and/or becoming significant assets. Snider to left, Thames to DH, EE fulltime at first. Boom. There isn't a chance in hell that that makes the team worse than it is right now and it's an immediate upgrade defensively. Sorry, there has to be way more money left on a contract than there is on Lind to justify a team continuing to trot out a guy who's proven over the course of 2+ seasons that he simply isn't good enough to play everyday.

Andrew said...

When Snider comes back to Toronto, I'd like to be under the impression that he is the guy in left field, and that it's not subject to change with his performance. That said, I'm not entirely sure that you can properly convince him of that if you're bringing him up because the incumbent guy has struggled in his last 20 games.

10 walks to 11 strikeouts and 14 extra base hits in AAA is very encouraging so far, but I'd like to see Snider stay down a bit longer to build his confidence and make sure the adjustments he's made will stick. The team might not openly say it, but this year is about the assets in place progressing, and I don't see how that will be accomplished by once again sending him back and forth to Las Vegas all year.

Withnail said...

I'm happy to see this post. I think there is such a collective fancrush on Travis Snider that no one sees either of them - Snider or Thames - particularly objectively. People really really identify with Mr MeatsDontClash, and feel really pissed off about how his development has been mishandled, and I think that clouds everything. I think it sucks how everyone is gleeful about misplays by Thames, in a way they aren't about other players' issues. It reminds me of the Encarnacion days of yore, and it looks...shitty and immature. Stop comparing Thames with Snider. Just stop. They're different guys battling different demons, and you can feel bad about the treatment of one (Snider) without shitting all over the other one (Thames). I'm not saying that being a fan means being uncritical in your support, but I wish people would realize that they have no objectivity about Thames because they have him in this 1-to-1 match-up with Snider in their heads which is unfair to both players. When Snider comes up and looks like a deer in headlights at the plate, everyone is ready to blame Cito, blame Riccardi, whatever. Thames gets the OPPOSITE of that - this attitude that somehow he just sucks and it's an irredeemable situation of his own making. He's 25 years old - a little more than a year older than Snider. How old was Bautista when he pulled everything together, again?

everdiso said...


1B Encarnacion
DH Thames
LF Snider

team is upgraded offensively, defensively, and on the basepaths.

Lind is one of only 2 MLBers with a negative WAR rating since 2010 who have managed to hold on to a full time job (figgins is the other), and we stick him in the heart of our lineup every game. It's really, really silly.

Since 2010:

Encarnacion: 973pa, .794ops, .344woba, 115wRC+, -11.8uzr/150 @ 1B
Thames: 443pa, .762ops, .330woba, 106wRC+, -26.5uzr/150 @LF
Snider: 521pa, .709ops, .309woba, 90wRC+, +17.1uzr/150 @LF
Lind: 1218pa, .719ops, .310woba, 91wRC+, -1.4uzr/150 @1B

Jays owe Lind about $13m over the rest of his contract. Might as well just eat it.

Peter DeMarco said...

Some thoughts:
- I really don't think the question should be Thames or Snider, it most likely should be Thames or trade for a proven outfielder.
- It's funny how people view the exact same situations differently, I find Snider every bit as uncomfortable to watch in the outfield as Thames. He just looks awkward and yet it seems the consensus thinks he's a good outfielder?
- I do have some hope that Snider can still develop into a good hitter, however I think the most likely scenario will be that he will come back up and play at replacement level.

Anonymous said...

Tao your article was honest and insightful. I applaud good sir I applaud.

Minor Leaguer said...

"If you move Snider to first, what do you do with Adam Lind?"

You obviously did not listen to Mike Wilner's Blue Jays Talk last night when some genius suggested that we can stick Snider at first and move Lind out to LF...

Anonymous said...

No offence but if you think Snider is the same defensively as Thames then you're just not paying attention. Snider has a stronger and more accurate arm, and has some solid range compared to most left fielders. Don't forget the Jays threw him in CF for a few games. While that may seem meaningless (and, admittedly, is kind of meaningless), that would never even be considered with Thames. So even the Jays would say Snider is the better defender.

We can argue about the bat all you want, but it's pretty damn clear Snider is a significantly better defender than Thames. I don't want to bring up the UZR numbers but they favour Snider as well.