"But we do know what Snider is right now... is a guy that everytime you send him to Triple-A he rips it up and everytime you bring him back to the major leagues he can't get out of his own way."
Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports, December 6th, 2010
There was an interesting discussion on Prime Time Sports yesterday between host Bob McCown and Toronto Sun writer Bob Elliott. I say interesting because the other adjectives I could think of to describe it would just prove the notion so many old time baseball minds have that us new agey stats guys are a bunch of snobby punks. Anywho, the topic of Zack Greinke came up, as it has come up so often in discussions regarding the Blue Jays over the past few months. The question being that if the cost is Drabek + Snider, do you pay up? Neither Bob had much problem saying yes to that. A minute or so later when discussing the risk of giving up a quality pitcher like Shaun Marcum in a trade for a prospect like Brett Lawrie, Travis Snider was cited as an example of the uncertainty of acquiring a prospect.
McCown: "He might be good... but we all thought Snider by now was gonna be a star... and he's not."
Elliott: "No, Snider's far from established.
I know the Bob's are big fans of baseball history, so I have a little list I think they might find interesting:
Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Gary Carter, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Ryne Sandberg, Robin Yount, and Brooks Robinson.
These guys have a lot in common. They all played in the last 60 years or so. They're all Hall of Famers. And they all had career On Base Plus slugging numbers lower than Travis Snider does at the end of their age 22 seasons. It's true, Lunchbox's career batting line of .255/.318/.446 may not strike fear into the hearts of the stud pitchers of the AL East, but given historical perspective he's standing on the shoulders of quite a few giants. In no way am I suggesting that Snider's first few fragmented campaigns indicate he is destined for Cooperstown, just trying to emphasize that to suggest a player is somehow diminished as a prospect because he has only been a slightly above average hitter at 22 is absurd. Snider has played parts of 3 seasons at the ages of 20-22, when most players would be between low-A and AA baseball. That he is an already better than average major leaguer is actually a positive sign, not a negative one.
The lunacy continued today when the Jays booth statistician (and vaunted Sportsnet.ca blogger) Scott Carson wrote about the possibility of a Greinke for Drabek and Snider exchange.
"Most of you might complain that dealing that much future is foolish, but I beg to differ. I’ve seen Snider since he first arrived as a 20-year-old after just 305 games of minor-league experience. I was wowed by his line drive home run power, an above-average arm and okay foot speed for a "thick bodied" youngster. But I also became leery of his average baseball IQ and the fact that he had trouble with the in-game coaching he was receiving from Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace."
Granted Carson became the Jays statistician back in 1993 when the traditional definition of statistics in baseball extended little beyond the figures found on the back of a baseball card, so perhaps he should be cut some slack. That being said, talking about "baseball IQ" and implying Snider is uncoachable is a bit out of his jurisdiction, don't you think? I've never read a scouting report that questioned Snider's baseball instincts, and not getting along with the Gaston/Tenace regime would likely have put him in the majority in September of 2009. If the implication is that Travis Snider isn't showing any progress, what does he base that on? Let's take a look at the year to year numbers in Snider's first two "full" seasons in the big leagues.
.241/.328/.419, 9 home runs, 29 walks, 78 strikeouts, 1/2 in stolen base attempts in 276 plate appearances
.255/.304/.463, 14 home runs, 29 walks, 79 strikeouts, 6/9 in stolen base attempts in 319 plate appearances
It's a bit of a mixed bag. A jump in slugging percentage of almost 50 points, a drop in on base percentage of 24 points His walk rate slipped from a relatively high 10.5% to a below average 6.6%, while his strikeout rate also went down from 28.3% to 24.8%. He showed increased ability to put the ball in play and coupled with an improved line drive rate (17% to 23%) was able to on a whole increase his OPS from a slightly below average .747 to a slightly above average .767. But what should we expect from the youngster next year? There are a couple indications that suggest he's due to see significant increases across the board.
Travis' LD% of 23% is substantially above league average, yet his batting average on balls in play was a paltry .302, right at the historical league averages. As this article in the Hardball Times suggests, the correlation between LD% and BAbip has generally been LD%+.120. So with luck taken out of consideration, Snider's BAbip should have been about 50 points higher. We can find the amount of balls put in play (AB-HR-SO) then apply the .350 BAbip to it and by adding home runs back into the total we find that he would have had 10 extra hits over 298 AB, working out to a batting average of roughly .289. Applying the BAbip correction would on its own be enough to raise Snider's 2010 OBP to .335 and his SLG to .497, even if we assume all 10 of those hits end up being singles. So on its own it's not at all unrealistic to expect an OPS of at least .832 in 2011 should he simply not get unlucky again.
The other thing really worth making note of is Snider's improved plate discipline. I know it's hard to believe that a hitter who saw his walk rate drop close to 40% is a more disciplined hitter than he was in the previous year, but there is one big indicator of this - pitches per plate appearance. Generally speaking over a 162 game span it's quite easy to see a fluctuation in ratio stats like BB%, and that's even more so for the 82 and 77 games Snider played in 2010 and 2009 respectively. But the sign that a hitter is showing plate discipline and command comes down to how many pitches he is able to force the pitcher to throw. The major league average is around 3.8, and although he posted an impressive walk rate in 2009 he only saw about 3.59 pitches. In 2010 that number improved to 3.78, more or less league average. If this were to have been rewarded with even a league average walk rate, he likely would have drawn 7 more walks. On its own that could have been worth an additional 20 points of on base percentage.
There are more intangible reasons for why Travis Snider's performance may not have yet matched the considerable hype - inconsistent use, lack of experience against big league right handers, a poor relationship with a manager who could never seem to work well with youngsters. They are impossible to quantify and so I only bring them up because they've been so often cited. But for the reasons I've already outlined, and coupled with the fact that statistically he's almost certainly miles away from his peak years, I have plenty of reasons to be hopeful. And given the serious lack of positional depth in the Blue Jays farm system, I can't see why anyone would want to give up on that.