I’ve been thinking about Matthias’ excellent post on Travis Snider for the past few weeks and have been trying to wrap my head around what to do with Snider. I’ve been thinking about it even more so now that Snider has been ticketed for AAA Las Vegas.
The thrust of Matthias’ argument is that Travis Snider needs to produce at a superstar level versus right-handed pitching in order to stay at the big-league level. The reason for this, is that Snider struggles mightily against any and all left-handed pitching that he’s faced at the Major League level.
[blockquote citeLink="http://mopupduty.com/travis-snider-platoon-ceiling-1261/"]171 PA = 9 BB vs 63 K K Rate : 36.8%
Awful. And the Jays know this, as Travis has already seen his share of platoon duty during his time in the show. To put both the MILB + MLB numbers into prospective, Drew Stubbs struck out 205 times last season. And his overall K rate was 30.1%.[/blockquote]
In April of last year, I wrote a post detailing Snider’s struggles, stating specifically that he needed to make an adjustment in order to avoid being victimized by the curveball. This was his bugaboo, and it was very real. In a game in April, Snider was absolutely victimized by the curveballs of AJ Burnett and David Robertson.
[blockquote citeLink="http://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2011/6/16/2227032/minor-league-analysis-travis-snider "]The curveball is the pitch that Travis struggles most with: he hit about 65% of the curveballs he hit in 2010 on the ground, and did not homer a single time on a curveball. It’s also the pitch he put into play the least in both 2011 and 2010.[/blockquote]
The scouting report was true: Snider couldn’t hit the curveball and was becoming an automatic out. Three days later the Blue Jays sent Travis to AAA to #cleanitup. And #cleanitup he did with the help of Las Vegas hitting coach Chad Motolla.
[blockquote cite="Gregor Chisholm" citeLink="http://toronto.bluejays.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120227&content_id=26877196&vkey=news_tor&c_id=tor"]In the past, Snider pulled off with the front side of his body in an effort to drive the ball. The barrel of the bat was being manipulated with the way his body moved instead of allowing his hands to do most of the work. The stance has since opened up, his hands have dropped and the hope is that he will be able to drive the ball with more regularity to all parts of the field.[/blockquote]
Snider returned to the Blue Jays in July and was no longer overmatched by curveballs from right-handed pitchers. But what about curveballs from left-handers? Theirein lies the problem; his bugaboo lingers.
Travis continues to struggle against curveballs from left-handed pitchers. Take from this what you will: in a small sample-size of 16 at-bats versus left-handed pitching, Snider has posted a 1.228 OPS. On the surface it looks like a great improvement, yet if we are to dig a little deeper, we find that Snider still has struck out 7 times in those 16 at-bats for a 43.75% strikeout rate. He’s also not facing bona-fide Major League pitching throughout this sample size. Not good, especially for a player trying to earn the left-field job out of spring training. The Blue Jays brass may have seen this, and as a result felt he needed more seasoning in the minors.
[blockquote cite="Keith Law" citeLink="http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/blog/_/name/law_keith/id/7692887/dustin-mcgowan-kyle-drabek-anthony-gose-stand-toronto-blue-jays"]Travis Snider did pull a hard line drive down the first-base line for a double, a ball he wouldn’t have gotten to last year with his hands set up higher than they are now, but punched out twice against Zach Duke on big, sloppy curveballs.[/blockquote]
As Matthias mentioned previously, Snider’s strikeout rate at the MLB level is 36.8%. The knee-jerk reaction would be to send Snider to AAA Las Vegas. Once there, he would be sent to the plate to face as many left-handers as possible to get him more comfortable vs the left-handed deuce. There are two reasons why this isn’t an ideal solution:
1. Travis Snider’s strikeout percentage numbers have decreased each year for the past four years. Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter crunched the numbers and found out that Snider’s strikeout rate was only 15.2% in AAA Las Vegas. As the cliché goes, “he has nothing left to learn at the minor league level.”
2. The level of competition at Vegas is not what it needs to be to help Snider improve his game. The Blue Jays’ AAA affiliate plays in the Pacific Coast League, a league known for high altitudes. Breaking-balls lose their “bite” and flyball outs end up over the fence for home runs. Just ask Kyle Drabek. Snider won’t be able to face high-calibre curveballs.
Travis is in a catch-22 situation because he can’t get better against left-handed curveballs unless he sees them on a regular basis. The Blue Jays don’t want Snider to see curveballs on a regular basis (at the Major League level) because he struggles terribly against them. In Snider’s MLB career, he has 742 plate appearances when starting a game versus a right-handed pitcher. In contrast, he only has 135 plate appearances when starting a game against left-handed pitching (h/t Baseball Reference). This is such a small number that it should trigger sample-size alerts. He hardly has any track record at all. What does it do to a player’s confidence when he is sat on the bench everytime the Jays face a left-handed starter? This is a surefire way to stunt a player’s development.
So what are the Jays to do?
Well, they could always follow Matt Stairs’ advice and give Snider “the 550 at-bats he was promised 3-4 times” (note: I am not privy to any promises that have been made to Snider). Since Snider is – in theory – able to hit the curveball from right-handers now, his learning “curve” (see what I did there?) shouldn’t be as detrimental to the team as it once was.
What about some outside-the-box ideas? Back when I used to play, there was a Dominican player who played for our junior affiliate who had a lot of promise. He was a tremendous athlete, yet he had a glaring flaw in his game: he couldn’t hit a curveball since he hardly faced any when playing in the DR. To remedy his situation, the junior team’s manager sent him to join my team for practices. When the pitching staff were scheduled to throw bullpens, he would step in and try to tee off on our pitches. We would pitch him a steady diet of curveballs at game-speed; he was overmatched. The first week he might have made contact with 1 of every 30 curves he saw. But he eventually got better. As the weeks passed it went from 1 to 3 to 5 to 8 to 12 and so on. Not only that, but he was better able to recognize the curve coming out of our hands and was able to anticipate it in his games.
Why not do something similar with Travis? At the big-league level, it’s most likely not wise to tinker with the bullpens of pitchers on the 25-man roster. Instead, find some left-handed pitchers who still can throw a curveball. They may not be do anything else, but all Travis needs to see is the curve. Bring in Kenny Rogers and let him apply as much pine tar as he wants to the ball and see if Travis can hit it. What’s Gustavo Chacin up to these days? Dana Eveland? Mark Hendrickson? Chris Michalak? Ted Lilly can’t be long for this game. Neither can David Purcey. Hire them as “roving instructors” and send them all out there in succession on a regular basis. These guys aren’t much worse than Zach Duke. Practice makes perfect, and the only way Travis is going to get better is through repitition.
Travis Snider is a great player with incredible potential. It would be a shame to see his ceiling realized in another organization because the Jays made too many missteps in his development. One thing is for certain: the Jays can’t ignore this problem, ship Snider to AAA and hope that it goes away. Now is the time to take action and do what is best for the player - and in the long run - best for the team.