This is the ninth part of a series of posts on the keys to the Toronto Blue Jays 2010 season. Part I, where we introduced and laid out all the keys, is here. Most recently, we discussed the continuing growth of Shaun Marcum. This post will focus on young Travis Snider's emergence as one of the rising stars in the American League.
8. Travis Snider -- If he hits at 22, all we have to do is make sure he doesn't go all Richie Allen. Hopefully he can cut down on the strikeouts a bit without losing the walks and the power. Like Wallace, it's not absolutely imperative that he make big strides in 2010, but it would sure help the longterm outlook.
Well, for all the doomsayers' doomsaying, Travis Snider was actually a league-average hitter last season as just a 21 year old, finishing the season with a .241 / .328 / .419 line. We all know the story, Moonraker started the year on fire but quickly cooled down and was ice-cold before getting sent back to AAA batting .242 / .292 / .394. He got hurt in Las Vegas and didn't return to the big leagues until August, but had a strong September which gave us a little taste of some things to hope for in 2010. He isn't going to win many games with his glove, but -- given how many runs his bat can produce -- if he can be average in left, we'll take it. Outside of Toronto, people's expectations for Travis in 2010 were pretty lukewarm -- ZiPS, for example, projected little growth (.240 / .332 / .452).For a spell -- superficially, at least -- it seemed like Travis would not even meet those expectations. An April that saw him hit .155 / .277 / .338 prompted a commenter on this very site called him "the Brandon Wood of the Toronto Blue Jays." Folks started to claim that there was "an hole in his swing" and make other such keen observations usually left to experts.
Some of us, however, could tell by watching Snider that he was not as bad as his batting average looked. He showed solid plate discipline, particularly for a player of his age. He was striking out just under a quarter of the time, which was not unreasonable considering that he was drawing walks almost 15% of the time. Better yet, when he was hitting the ball, he was hitting it hard. It wasn't his fault if he was falling victim to what's not-so-affectionately termed "the old at'em ball." In April, Snider's BABIP was a paltry .157 (league average generally ranges between .290 and .310), while his linedrive-rate was 24.1% (league average is generally around 19%). So, although he was roping the ball more than 25% more frequently than the average batter, balls in play were landing for hits barely half as often. Those of us who looked past phantom holes in 'raker's swing could see that he looked just fine at the plate.
And then his luck changed in May. Travis kept hitting missiles, but these weren't glove-seeking. Moonraker's linedrive-rate actually increased in May, to 30.3%, and his BABIP soared to .467. Snider's walk-rate dropped precipitously (he walked just twice in 47 plate appearances), but when everything that's hit is on a line, walking is less important. In the 11 games before hurting his wrist, Travis managed to bring his .149 / .267 / .324 line up to a respectable .241 / .323 / .483. What we should actually expect from Travis, of course, is somewhere between his April production and his May production (.378 / .404 / .711), but short of him being Ted Williams it was always going to be. Either way, if he can stay healthy, we've got a good one on our hands. Travis hasn't really changed ZiPS's mind at all (projecting him to hit .239 / .326 / .454 the rest of the way), but it really all depends on how he's able to bounce back from his wrist injury. We know from experience watching Vernon Wells that it's tough to predict how a hitter will do coming back from a wrist injury, but if Travis is fit, I think we could see him finish the season around .270 / .335 / .480. Doing that at 22 is pretty special.
Oh, and for the record, entering the 2010 season, Travis Snider's career OPS+ over 356 plate appearances through age 21 was 101. Brandon Wood's over 236 plate appearances through age 24 was 39. Travis Snider is not and never was our Brandon Wood.