The Pittsburgh Pirates had a disappointing 2016 season. As the off-season begins, it is time to grade out the club. Today we look at a under the radar 2016 for a man who went from non-roster spring training invitee to stellar bench bat/fourth outfield option.
Matt Joyce was undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises of the 2016 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In February, the Pirates signed Joyce to a minor league contract. Joyce competed for a bench spot on the major league roster while in Spring Training and impressed while there.
Joyce, who hit just .174 in 284 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2015, made the Pirates Opening Day roster and had an immediate impact.
In April, he hit .379 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 29 at-bats while primarily serving as a pinch hitter.
That was just the start.
Joyce thrived in his role as a fourth outfield option and as a bench bat. He took advantage of every opportunity he received and it allowed him to have under the radar success in 2016.
High Walk Rate
One of Joyce’s strengths in 2016 involved his ability to show a discipline and get on base via the walk.
Joyce compiled 59 walks in 293 plate appearances throughout the year, which ranked him second on the team in that category behind Andrew McCutchen who walked 69 times. His 20.1 percent walk rate was also the highest of his career as his previous career high was a 15.3 percent walk rate that he compiled as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010.
Joyce also made a little bit of history in 2016 as he set the major league single-season record for walks in a season as a pinch hitter with 21 free passes. The 32-year old also compiled a team best .403 on-base percentage this season.
High Home Run Totals
Though he only started 43 games in 2016, Joyce also showed an impressive presence at the plate and had the power to go along with it.
Joyce was tied for fifth on the Pirates squad with 13 home runs this year and had far less plate appearances than any other player on that list. Joyce also contributed 42 RBIs for the Pirates this season.
His home run and RBI totals may not look impressive, but for a bench bat whose future was uncertain coming into 2016, it really is surprising that he was able to have such a huge impact in that regard.
High Strikeout Rate
Aside from Joyce’s ability to draw walks, he also had the tendency to strike out often as well. This was one of the drawbacks to his overall performance in 2016.
While he compiled a career season in regards to free passes, he struggled at times by striking out on 67 occasions. That contributed to his 22.9 percent strikeout rate which is just a little bit higher than his career strikeout rate of 21.4 percent.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] It’s obvious that Joyce was just a bench bat and that he didn’t get as many opportunities[/perfectpullquote]
As an member of the Angels last season, Joyce set a career high as he compiled a 23.6 percent strikeout rate. This was undoubtedly the lowest mark of his career and he translated that to this season.
There was good news when it comes to the amount of times Joyce struck out this season. In fact, he got better as the season went on. Joyce struck out 40 times in 129 at-bats prior to the all star break, but he only struck out 27 times in 102 at-bats in the second half. The veteran outfielder also walked more than he struck out during the second half of the season.
Joyce has had issues with strikeouts throughout his career, so the fact that his strikeout rate was so high shouldn’t come as much of a shock. However, it was an issue that he endured throughout the season.
Second Half Slump/Road Struggles
As we all know, Joyce got out to a hot start in April while cooling down a bit in the summer months of May, June and July. However, his entire second half was sluggish.
While he hit .295 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs in the first half of the season, Joyce hit a dreadful .176 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in the second half of the season. Joyce did have less at-bats in the second half, but his production in those opportunities clearly went down.
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Joyce also had evident struggles while playing away from PNC Park. He hit .265 with 10 home runs and 26 RBIs at home and hit just .219 with three home runs and 16 RBIs on the road. He played an even 70 games both on the road and at home and had just three more at-bats at home than on the road.
It’s obvious that Joyce was just a bench bat and that he didn’t get as many opportunities since the outfield in Pittsburgh was crowded with the likes of McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. However, his lack of productivity was evident when playing inside visiting ballparks and following the all star break.
Conclusion and Final Grade
Overall, Matt Joyce exceeded expectations in 2016. Let’s face it, the guy wasn’t even expected to make the roster out of spring training and a lot of people were unsure of how he would fit in this season. The guy was a steal, plain and simple.
Did he have his rough patches and struggles? Yes. But did he have a big impact as an underrated bench bat and somewhat revitalize his career? Also a yes.
At times, I thought about giving Joyce an A, but then I thought about the guys who have received A’s including Marte and Ivan Nova. I know that Nova was only in Pittsburgh for a short time, but he’s a starting pitcher who had a giant impact from the time he arrived to the time he threw his last pitch. In Marte’s case, he was arguably the best Pirates player all season and showed why he is incredibly underrated.
Joyce had a good season for a guy in his role, but he did have flaws. Due to the fact that he wasn’t an everyday player and did have his struggles at times, I decided to give the Pirates fourth outfielder a B grade for his efforts during the 2016 season.
What Grade would you give Joyce?
Do you agree with our assessment of Joyce’s 2016 season? Do you disagree? Cast your vote below!
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