Blue Jays finding long-awaited stability with Goins, Travis
The Toronto Blue Jays have been searching for answers at second base for years, and by the end of 2014 it had reached a point where the position was an accepted dead area offensively. Through a newcomer and a surprise holdover, however, the position has not only been revived on the Blue Jays roster, it’s become a quiet strength.
Ryan Goins and Devon Travis have formed an unlikely battery that’s helped to produce a very strong bottom of the order alongside names like Kevin Pillar and, until recently, Ben Revere. A recurring shoulder injury to Travis has left the door open to Goins, the unpredictable walk-off hero, but following the theme of this Blue Jays roster in 2015, he’s risen to the occasion.
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It’s both an enjoyable and humbling experience to look back five-to-six months at spring training, where predicting the second base picture was a hot topic of discussion. I had supported throwing the keys to Travis full-time out of the gate, but was realistically expecting Maicer Izturis to factor in at the MLB level while Travis gained polish in AAA Buffalo. Oh, Maicer, we hardly knew ye.
The 24-year old has managed to appear in just 62 games this season, but it’s been a story of quality over quantity. Travis has slashed .304 / .361 / .498 with eight home runs, and should conceivable have the potential to flirt with 15 long balls in a full-length season. His defense has been a pleasant surprise, too, as it’s exceeded the modest expectations that followed him from Detroit in the Anthony Gose deal.
Goins has been the real stunner, though. Now 27 years old with his earliest free agency coming in 2021, the defensive master had been pigeonholed as a long-term quadruple-A utility infielder. Quite the job title, isn’t it? The designation was understandable after a 2014 that saw him hit .188 in 193 plate appearances, looking overmatched throughout. His 2015 season has produced a .246 average, but something has clicked since the calendar turned to August.
His slash line since that time has shot to .312 / .436 / .468 with three home runs and 11 RBI. Most impressive, though, is Goins’ 17 walks compared to just 18 strikeouts over that span. Perhaps the regularity of his playing time has helped, and his recent interviews have reminded me of the arc that Kevin Pillar has taken over the past 12 months. Goins suggests this to Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun, whose great piece on the new second base dynamic can be found here.
“Part of it is feeling like you belong, knowing you’re in there every day. That always helps. Sometimes if you’re not playing a lot, you get that one or two starts and the mentality is ‘Hey, I’ve got to make something happen because I want to be in the lineup again tomorrow.’ That probably leads to some over-aggressiveness, too.”
His confidence has been buoyed by some “real” changes, too, of course. Eric Elliot of Statliners breaks down the mechanical change that Goins and hitting coach Brook Jacoby have made, having him rest the bat on his back shoulder before loading quietly into his swing. Elliot also explains that the protection behind Goins hasn’t been doing all the work, either, as opposing pitchers have still attacked him similarly to how they did early in the season.
Between youth, league adjustments and outlying stats, one of the two is surely due to regress to some sort of norm. Such is the nature of baseball, which I reluctantly understand. We’ll worry about next year when next year comes, but with the Blue Jays on their current run, I’m keeping a lock on future talk. The two players have saved Toronto’s roster from a long-standing hole, and in strengthening a weakest link, the Jays have become all the more likely to chase a championship.
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