Blue Jays rookie Devon Travis’ hidden value


A lot was made this winter about the need for the Toronto Blue Jays to improve their situation at second base. Many felt that meant a veteran acquisition that would come in and solidify the position for a few years. That would give the Blue Jays time to develop a long-term option at the position.

Alex Anthopoulos decided to skip a step.

The Blue Jays general manager made a somewhat sneaky trade on November 13th, acquiring second base prospect Devon Travis from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for longtime outfield prospect Anthony Gose. At the time, it appeared more about finding a new home and possibly inserting some new blood into what was a lackluster middle infield corps in the upper minors. Travis, who had never played above Double-A, was likely slated to start the year in Buffalo and could possibly have made an appearance at some point in 2015. That would have left a rotation of Ryan Goins, Steve Tolleson, Maicer Izturis, or possibly Munenor Kawasaki to man the keystone until his arrival.

However, it became apparent during Spring Training that the Blue Jays had possibly struck oil with Devon Travis, as the second baseman saw the most reps of any infielder in camp. He made the most of the increased exposure, slashing .359/.400/.453 in 68 plate appearances. With that performance and the injury to Izturis in camp, the door was opened and Travis stepped through it to take the Opening Day job.

Now of course, Travis isn’t the only rookie in recent seasons to get the start at second base. In fact, Goins himself was handed the job to start the 2014 season and fell flat on his face when his bat proved it wasn’t ready for Major League pitching. Would Devon Travis prove differently?

Granted, the sample size is still quite small, but the early results are showing that Devon Travis is embracing the opportunity and the comparisons to Goins are not even close. Through 7 games, the 24-year-old looks quite comfortable, slashing .261/.346/.435 with 1 home run and 4 RBI in 26 plate appearances. But what if I showed you via a quick table just how much different devon Travis has been when compared to the 2014 version of Ryan Goins?

[table id=87 /]

As you can see above, the immediate impact that Travis is adding is that he’s making pitchers work harder at the bottom of the line-up. By seeing 4.62 pitches per plate appearance, Travis is forcing an average starter to throw nearly three more pitches per game than Goins. That may not sound like a lot, but those additional looks mean a lot to a developing hitter, not to mention the guy hitting behind him and waiting in the on-deck circle.

Additionally, he’s been a much smarter hitter than Goins was. Travis has swung at only 7.7% of first pitch strikes, where as Goins was notorious for offering at the first pitch, doing so at a clip of 26.9% in 2014. Given Goins’ 79.6% contact rate, he was starting in the hole more often than not, as evidenced by his piddly 2.1% rate of seeing 3-0 counts. Meanwhile Travis that has parlayed his slightly higher 81.4% contact rate into more production at the plate and his patience on the first pitch has lead to deeper at-bats and a 7.7% 3-0 count rate.

Of course, the argument for Goins has always been his fielding, and there is no suggesting that he isn’t a marvel to watch with the glove. However, Devon Travis has been no slouch with the leather either. While he may not be as flashy as Goins, he certainly has been as efficient as the Blue Jays have needed. In fact, while the opportunities have been low, Travis (.900) actually has a better Revised Zone Rating than did Goins (.839) in 2014. Given the very small sample size there, I don’t expect that to necessarily hold up all season, but it is certainly encouraging at this early juncture.

This all leads back to value to the team, and again a 7-game sample is nothing to really put a large stake on, but the Blue Jays have to be happy with what Devon Travis has brought to the table thus far. In just 7 games, the rookie has contributed a 0.3 WPA (Win Probability Added) to the Jays, whereas Goins actually subtracted value from Toronto at a rate of -0.9 in 2015, mostly due to his fledgling bat.

Needless to say, the Blue Jays made a great decision handing the keys to Devon Travis to start the season, and it has certainly paid off for them in the early goings. If he can keep it up, or even improve, Travis stands to be the answer the Blue Jays were looking for at second base, a good two to three years ahead of schedule.

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