The Blue Jays decided to send down outfielder Billy McKinney – but why? Here’s a look at McKinney’s season and why the team might’ve decided to send him packing for Triple-A Buffalo.
While Blue Jays fans of all levels of devotion were clearly energized when the team announced they would be calling up top prospect Cavan Biggio from Triple-A Buffalo, some more astute observers were puzzled at the fact that outfielder Billy McKinney got demoted in his place.
Though McKinney’s slash line (.229/.278/.371) doesn’t exactly make him seem like a weapon with the bat, McKinney has, believe it or not, been one of the better rookies in the American League in many respects.
One of the two pieces acquired in last August’s J.A. Happ trade, McKinney, who entered this season as the organization’s No. 18 prospect, could be somewhat of a contributor to the team in seasons to come if his development and growth aren’t hampered by injuries or inconsistencies.
Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will surely be in the spotlight over the next week or so, but it might be important to answer (or, at least, attempt to answer) the following two questions related to Billy McKinney: (1) Why did he get demoted in the first place?, and (2) when will he back with the big-league club?
Why did he get demoted?
At the surface, it might seem evident why McKinney got shafted in place of the far more offensively sound Biggio. An OPS of .650 doesn’t scream productive, nor do his 34 strikeouts in 140 at-bats. Still, he’s been sneakily impressive in several offensive categories
McKinney’s 11 doubles rank him first in the AL among rookies, while his 17 runs scored place him fourth in the AL among rookies, and eighth in all of baseball. On top of that, his 32 hits are good enough for third in the AL among rookies, behind teammate Rowdy Tellez (37) and Tampa Bay Rays infielder Brandon Lowe (46).
Outside of those numbers, though, the season has been a rollercoaster for the 24-year-old from Dallas.
If there were one word to describe McKinney’s season thus far, it would be streaky.
It is almost ridiculous how, in every series the Blue Jays play, they seem to get a different Billy McKinney to the previous series. Here’s a look at McKinney’s numbers by series:
* series in which McKinney appeared in only one game are not tallied
According to the Win Probability Added (WPA) metric, McKinney has “helped” the Blue Jays win in just three of 14 sets this season (vs. DET, 0.027 WPA; @ OAK, 0.081; @ TEX, 0.068) and has “decreased” his team’s odds of winning in the remaining 11 (vs. BAL, -0.257 WPA; @ CLE, -0.058; @ BOS, -0.103; vs. TB, -0.003; vs. OAK, -0.135; @ MIN, -0.157; @ LAA, -0.071; vs. MIN, -0.083; @ SF, -0.186; @ CWS, -0.101; vs. BOS, -0.351).
Of course, his demotion could simply be as a result of recency bias, seeing as he was dreadful in the Boston series, and, while he was effective in Chicago, he was hapless in San Francisco. In the month of May, his cumulative WPA has been -0.702.
But, perhaps even most plausibly, he could’ve just been the victim of an infield-heavy roster. With Gurriel Jr., Eric Sogard, Freddy Galvis, Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Justin Smoak and Tellez all starting on a regular basis, and non-natural outfielder Brandon Drury getting significant reps in right, McKinney seemed to be the odd-man out, despite his intriguing splits and numbers.
When could/will he be back?
With current centre fielder Jonathan Davis (3-for-32, .188 OPS, 10 SO) struggling at the dish, and the veteran Sogard (5-for-35, 4 SO in his last 10 games) beginning to decline, a major-league roster spot could become available sooner than one might think.
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Still, McKinney has his fair share of competition in Buffalo, with Alen Hanson (2 HR, 7 RBI, 2B, .699 OPS in 10 G) and Sócrates Brito (2 RBI, 2 2B, 4 R in 5 G) shockingly putting up decent numbers in the upper minors.
In addition to all of this, the team could anticipate, at some point, the arrival of Anthony Alford, who, despite lofty struggles in Buffalo (.209/.293/.358, ), still appears to be in the minds of the front office as they move forward in constructing the outfield of the future.
Of course, the majority of this entire conversation depends on McKinney’s own performance. If he, for instance, hits with the same force and prowess as Gurriel Jr. did upon his initial demotion in April, it shouldn’t be long before he rejoins the team in Toronto.
Regardless, McKinney could still see hundreds of more at-bats this season with the Blue Jays at the major-league level. As the old adage goes, hitting (or, playing well in general) will always open up a roster spot.
Given the volatility and inconsistency of many of the team’s hitters, McKinney could have an opportunity to cement himself as one of the more dependable offensive forces on the roster. For now, he’ll have to do some work at Sahlen Field with the Bisons.