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How to crack Devon Travis

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Devon Travis has been everything the Toronto Blue Jays dreamt about when acquiring him late in 2014. He was named rookie of the month for the American League in April and still maintains a .287/.358/.546 slash.

The entire baseball world is asking the same question: Is this Travis for real? Looking at his peripheral statistics would suggest that, for the most part, what we’re seeing is fairly realistic.

His BABIP thus far is .296 which is actually lower than his last three rates across the minor leagues. He’s walking slightly less than he did in the minor leagues and striking out more so really, these numbers are right with his career norms.

But it’s still early. The league has yet to adjust so maybe it’s too early to determine how pitchers will adjust to bring Mr. Travis back down to earth. With that, here’s how teams may tackle the challenge of normalizing one of 2015’s most premature stars.

Looking at Travis’ Zone Charts from Brooks Baseball, you can see how Travis has done by batting average in the 25 squares of various pitch locations.

As you can see, Travis derives most of his success when swinging at pitches inside or up and in, similar to his idol Dustin Pedroia. The easy answer would be to say that you should throw him outside pitches and let him continue to produce suboptimal results.

There is some merit to that argument no doubt. Travis tends to swing at more pitches outside the strike zone than the average player at 32% so risking a tough location may be worth it in the end if you can induce weak contact. He also chases pitches on the outer half of the plate frequently. According to Brooks Baseball, he swings at 70.59% of pitches in the upper right corner of the strike zone; a square he has not received a hit in this season.

So yes, the easy answer is to throw him up and away and expect him to continue to swing away at it without success.

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The follow up question would be, what pitch is most likely to get him out? To that, you look at Travis’ linear weights on pitches per Fangraphs. Through looking at this table you can see the pitches Travis struggles with most are hard pitches with movement (cutters, sinkers) and off-speed pitches like sliders. Travis seems to be able to handle himself well with curveballs and changeups as he is 2.13 and 1.54 runs above average on those given pitches. When thrown a slider however, he has performed well below average by approximately 2.35 runs per 100 pitches.

When you put this minute sample of information together what you get is the idea that pitchers should attack him with sliders, cutters and sinkers up and away, hoping he will continue to chase it.

Of course, it’s still so early. Maybe all of this data is just too premature to actually generalize. Maybe everything he’s good at, he’s actually bad at. Maybe, just maybe, Travis is a bust.

But it’s May 11th: what better time to take a hack at cracking the Jays most notorious prospect. Time will determine just how memorable he will be.

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