If you’re like me (and my sympathies if that’s the case), Matt Joyce never entered your baseball consciousness until this March, when Atlanta acquired him from San Francisco for the spare change they found under the couch cushions in the front office lounge (largely because in spring training it looked like Adam Duvall still believed that the object of swinging a bat was to cause a breeze). My (fairly lame) excuse is that Joyce spent almost all of his career kicking around the American League with several teams that I don’t pay a lot of attention to. His best season as a regular was with Tampa Bay in 2011, where he had a strong first half that got him an all-star nod. He was also pretty good in a part-time role for Pittsburgh in 2016. He was with the A’s in 2018, but mostly on the shelf with back issues, and was essentially unplayable when he wasn’t injured. So entering this season past his “sell by” date at age 34, and having been jettisoned by both the Indians and Giants in the span of a few weeks, it’s fair to say that expectations were low. In fact, according to AAR:
Signing stiffs like Matt Joyce and Josh Tomlin for no money is what you’re supposed to do in March. If they ever play a meaningful inning for the team, we have bigger problems.
*Of note, AAR has already publicly apologized for all of his Anthopoulos criticisms here.
Sounded like a reasonable assessment to me. Since Duvall continued to flail, Matt made the big club primarily as a pinch hitter with the occasional spot start. Lo and behold, in a year where virtually every move AA made worked, Joyce performed adequately in his limited role. He hit a pinch hit homer on opening day, and through mid-August was slashing .243/.355/.398. Not world beating numbers to be sure, but not embarrassing either. Meanwhile, Ender went down due to general suckitude and injuries, Camargo was disappointing, Neck had the misfortune of hitting the IR due to an HBP, and the sheen wore off on Austin Riley. So the Braves used the “break glass in case of emergency” option and put Joyce into the starting lineup on a regular basis. And like just about everything else, it has worked. Joyce has since added 50 points to his offense across the board and is currently slashing .292/.405/.451. These represent career highs in AVG and OBP, and just 10 points off his career high OPS in 2016.
Can Joyce keep it up through the post-season? Who knows, but with Ronald gimpy (which raises the grotesque possibility of way more Billy Hamilton than anyone wants to see), he just may be key to the Braves playoff fortunes. Heal Ronald, heal!