Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Curious Case of Travis Snider

Photo by SillyGwaillo licensed under Creative Commons
Travis Snider is a peculiar player, one who recently has me pondering how we can project his future. He wasn't necessarily a "super high" draft pick having only been selected at #14, but he also wasn't really a dreamer prospect with all tools and no polish. Nonetheless he was a high school player and a high risk high reward talent who in 2008 looked to be the Blue Jays next big thing. Since then things have changed and we have definitely seen Snider take a turn for the worst. Now he has pushed himself into the category of the top prospect who hasn't panned out, making it particularly interesting to project what he can become.

Back in 2009 in his Blue Jays Top 11 Prospects list Kevin Goldstein said that "[Snider] has to move to first base... but he's certainly going to hit." Since then things have definitely changed. Fortunately for one thing Snider shouldn't have to worry about a move to first base anymore because the Blue Jays were confident enough about his athleticism that they started him in CF for 6 games. But also unfortunately Snider's hitting has also changed, but not in a good way as evidenced by the descending batting average since his initial season with the Jays. Though interestingly enough Snider's contact rate has increased, and his outside the zone swing percentage has decreased. Theoretically he should be hitting better, but just isn't producing. Despite all that going forward things can always shift and Snider has the talent to be better, he just hasn't produced. The question though would be is the talent going to show now or later.

For this bust prospect conundrum Alex Gordon has often been pointed to as a guy where it "worked out", but what you don't see at first glance is that it "worked out" after 1641 major league plate appearances a number that Snider would need two more full seasons to reach. Of course he is still young, but the Jays have all but burned up Snider's options. The time to give Snider playing time was the past three years when the Jays really didn't look like they were contending and could have milked out everything Snider had to offer. Instead Snider has gotten a grand total of 797 PA, which equates to just over one full season of plate appearances.

This has put Travis Snider in a rather unique situation, he doesn't have a whole lot of options because he has yet to spend a full season in the majors, but he also doesn't have that much playing time because he has been injured and is repeatedly sent down when he performs poorly. You might be asking why I'm questioning a demotion after a poor performance, but with any player of Snider's potential you wait and see what he can do rather than stuffing him in the minors.

In fact if you look at the chart to the left it shows that Travis Snider has the third least number of plate appearances in the first three years of the player's career of any top 20 outfield prospects in the past decade. One might point out the fact that Michael Cuddyer and BJ Upton are down there with Snider as a reason for hope and it is, but if you look at the other players around them like Joe Borchard, Lastings Milledge and Austin Kearns, you gain some more perspective.

Not to say that this means too much because all of these guys have been limited in their initial MLB experience because of many different reasons such as injury and Super Two status. Nonetheless I find the chart interesting, but it also makes it difficult to understand why the Blue Jays haven't given Snider more of a chance. When Alex Gordon was first brought into the majors he was given two full seasons before he was sent down, why wasn't Snider afforded the same luxury? Well for one the Jays "thought" they were contending and another they had a bit of a logjam in the outfield, but Snider is the kind of player you make room for, especially when winning is somewhat of an unrealistic expectation.

In spite of that one cannot change the past, but only look forward to the future, but because of the past the future is that much harder to predict. By this I mean now there is another roadblock in Snider's career and its name is Eric Thames. Thames is the other young outfielder on the 25 man roster and since neither is likely to get enough at-bats as a back up one will have to be traded or demoted to AAA. Although Snider is the more highly touted prospect, but Thames did have the better season statistically  in 2011 and therefore likely has the casual fans vote going forward.

This is all evidenced in the various projection systems as most don't think Snider will get a full season in the majors. Bill James has Snider at 239 PA in 2012, RotoChamp thinks it will be 270, FanGraphs fans have it at 394, ZiPS is at 514, and last but not least CAIRO guesses 283. Of course I would like to see Snider get a full season in the majors even if it is at the expense of Eric Thames, but I tend to side with Bill James in thinking that it probably won't happen. Though if it did what could come of Travis Snider?

The chart right is an aggregate projection for Travis Snider taking together all the projections (Well the ones I use at least) and calculating the average. As you can probably tell it seems pretty pessimistic, but unfortunately is a realistic prediction. The reasoning being that the way most of these projections work is that they are on a regression system or one that looks at players in similar positions. The issue though is that because the talent that Snider possesses he could break out at any time. We saw it with Alex Gordon, Justin Upton and others in 2011 and it could (I use that term loosely) be Snider in 2012 if he's given the chance.

Again in the same 2009 Blue Jays Top 11 Prospects list Kevin Goldstein said that Snider's perfect world projection is "... the third hitter in the Blue Jay's lineup, a perennial All-Star, and an occasional MVP candidate." At this point it is unlikely that Snider will reach his offensive ceiling which Goldstein predicted to be "a high average and well above average power."  That ceiling would likely look something like a .280 average with 30+ home runs, but at this point with all the setbacks that might be a tad unrealistic. Instead I would optimistically say that there's no reason Snider can't be a .270 hitter with say 25 home runs, I just don't think it will happen this year, which could be the problem.

If this year Snider again doesn't produce and if the Jays expect to be contenders in 2013 then they may be inclined to go another direction. That could be an ingenious decision or the biggest bonehead move of the decade (On second thought almost nothing can beat the signing of the Vernon Wells contract), but if recent history tells us anything it looks more likely to be the former. Looking at the chart with all the top 20 outfield prospects from the past decade most turned out to be pretty successful eventually. Granted there are some of the names that pop out as busts, but most because of injury and other non-talent related aspects.

Whatever the eventual decision be, I as a Travis Snider fan can only hope that at the very least the Blue Jays give him this season to attempt to be the player he was once projected to become. If he flops in 2012 well then I don't think that the Jays will continue with in 2013, but at the very least they would be able to say that they tried to recover the player that once was the 6th best prospect in major league baseball.

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus


  1. as bad as lind has been i'd rather see his bat for a full year then both of thames & snider. its a good thought though, and does sound like a very possible future for jose at 1st with all them prospects coming. assuming of course that some of our prospects are working out and lind fails again (lets hope that doesnt happen)

  2. The problem was that Travis was swinging at every bad breaking pitch from left-handers, so opening his stance was a logical way to give him a better look at the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand. That didn't really work, so I'm thinking that the issue was more a matter of poor pitch recognition, poor strike zone discipline and a hitch in his swing that made him vulnerable to the inside pitches, particularly from lefties. By "hitch," I mean that you can see his bat point forward AFTER the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. He also starts his swing later against lefties, and that's why he was so vulnerable to the inside pitches, which you need to be able to turn all the way on to drive them out of the park.

  3. SHITE - I forgot to mention that EE and Lind platoon at DH and which ever one is not actually in the game can become a serious late inning bat off the bench.

  4. I'm gonna get yelled at...

    In a couple of years our outfield may well be Gose (Gold Glove in CF), Marisnick (Gold Glove in RF) and either Thames, Snider, Sierra, Knecht, Crouse, Hawkins, Anderson or Rasmus in LF. Bautista will be at 1st base.

    Why not do it now. Move Jose to 1st (where he'll excel - as he would damn near at any position - I even wonder if he'd be a good enough catcher to change his name to Molina). Then leave Rasmus in CF and put Snider in RF and Thames in LF - FOR THE WHOLE YEAR - by that time Gose, Marisnick and the rest of the herd will have begun to separate themselves on the farm and we'll have a MUCH BETTER read on Thames and Snider.

    I think the addition of four young guys (Lawrie, Arencibia, Snider and Thames) all secure in their playing time - will feed off of each other and I expect to see some seriously exciting stuff from those guys.

  5. I'm not convinced his batting stance changes were a good idea. He went from a squat, think Scott Rolen from the left side, to this high upright start. Not sure what Murphy's rationale was but, as a casual fan, lets call this to quite his head. From what I saw it sapped the power and made the swing long. I'll be interested to see what approach he takes in the spring.

  6. If Snider could get Snider out of his head, I think Snider would get ahead! He looks to me like a guy who doubts himself at the plate, who has too much going on. Just turn him loose and fire any hitting instructor who even looks at him!

  7. From Merriam Webster "A period of ten years"

    Doesn't specify to one beggining with 0 :-)

    Any ten years

  8. That could be an ingenious decision or the biggest bonehead move of the decade (On second thought almost nothing can beat the signing of the Vernon Wells contract). It's 2012, it's a new decade. :-)

  9. Fair enough it just seems like I don't see Thames' ceiling being as high as you do, but I see your point and can agree to disagree

  10. I'm not sure we substantively disagree- I still see Snider as having the higher ceiling, and would give priority to him in terms of playing time if all else were equal.

    I do tend to think Thames still has a fair bit of unrealized potential, largely relating to his plate approach and defence.

  11. Thanks man always looking for new readers as I grow the blog up towards some of the bigger names

  12. Once an option is used they can send him down whenever they want throughout this season.

    As well a read assignment doesn't count as a used option

    As for the how many years before they don't matter I'm not quite sure off the top of my head

  13. can you tell me something about options & eligability. I know snider has 1 option left, does that mean if the jays put him in AAA to start the season have they used that option (or is it when they option him up). and once they choose to bring him up, will they not be allowed to send him back down ever again? or can they do it as many times as they want in this 1 "option" season.

    also, how many years does he have left before options no longer matter & he must play in the majors (i am guessing 5 but not sure)

  14. i too blame things on murphy. You see a prospect come up through the system and do so well at every single level, fail at AAA with a coach that has had a very specific approach to things (making the batter change their approach). and he keeps failing, everytime he goes to AAA he continues to have success. You can't deny the work they've done with bautista and maybe some others has been of benifit, but I feel we need to see Mottola at the big league level if snider/rasmus once again struggle on that stage. Its easy to say hey look we're the #6 offense, but I really feel the work that Mottola has done in AAA deserves a look in the bigs & before these great young prospects end up being traded away for next to nothing or release, we could be missing out on some amazing talent that just isn't working out with murphy (not saying rasmus hasn't worked out, as he hasn't had enough time, but IF he doesn't work out this year)

  15. new to the blog. found a link from DJF and just spent a ton of time reading your articles of late, great work & look forward to checking in here multiple times daily for good reads. thanks!

  16. On one hand you are right in the fact that you don't generally give a failinglayer major league time, but someone might point to Alex Gordon where eventually the talent shone through and he broke out.

  17. For me personally I don't think it is a factor of whether or not Eric Thames can improve, he can improve, but the question is really how much, where as for Snider it seems like the sky is the limit

  18. I blame Snider's fate squarely on Cito and Murphy. Every time he's sent down, he recovers the ability to hit, comes back and has to adjust his approach according (I suppose) to what's being demanded of him by Murphy. Travis Snider's issues aren't about pitchers adjusting to him. They need to get Murphy off his back, let him alone, and play him every day. I wouldn't mind if they fired Murphy and made Chad Motolla (sp?) the hitting coach.

    Eric Thames has most likely already reached his potential. He doesn't get on base enough to justify his terrible defensive play. He should NEVER AGAIN be allowed to hit 2nd in the order. Not sure why you'd want him to DH against righties either, when you have EE who is a much better hitter.

    I doubt Thames value will ever be any higher, so if they could trade him for something worthwhile, I wish they would. Trading Snider would be a mistake at this point. If he gets 550-650 PAs this season, and hasn't produced, then fine, DFA him. But he's got to get a full season at the plate.

  19. I'm not sure why people assume Eric Thames is never going to get any better than he was in his rookie season. Defensively, he can only improve, and he has demonstrated a better plate approach in the minor leagues than he did last season in the majors.

    As for serving as the DH against right-handers, EE has a career 99 wRC+ against righties; Thames put up a 120 wRC+ against righties last season. I expect EE to be slightly better than his career mark against right-handers, but I expect Thames to be still better. Every projection system I've seen has Thames hitting better this year than last.

    I'd be perfectly happy to trade Thames now, if I thought the market was there; but I doubt it is. EE would be another candidate to trade who would open up playing time for Snider, but I'm doubtful that will happen either.

  20. Between Eric Thames and Travis Snider I'm quite divided: Thames looks a lot better at the plate at the moment, and Snider lost a big chunk of his power last season. That said, Snider still has the higher ceiling and had the first good K-rate of his career in AAA, and he offers more in the way of secondary skills (Kevin Goldstein {and other prospect mavens} definitely would not have imagined Snider as a base-stealing, centre-field playing defensive asset).

    The fact is I expect both of them to improve this season, and I'd rather not trade low on either of them.

    Ultimately, I wouldn't have a problem with Snider spending the first month two in AAA to recover his power stroke and give him a few more starts in CF in a lower-stress environment; but no more than that- he needs to get regular playing time at the Major League level, and if that means less playing time for Thames, so be it- although Thames could definitely DH against right-handers. Injury might also solve the playing time dilemma, of course.

  21. Seems as though those projections left out the ability to adapt to pitchers adapting to him. The question remains though, how long do you keep a guy up when he is just getting worse and worse when he is up. Year after year he shows potential, but then his numbers plummet and plummet.