Blue Jays: Devon Travis is back!

 

The Toronto Blue Jays are benefiting from Devon Travis’ return in solid offensive production

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

The first month of the Blue Jays’ 2018 season was a nightmare for Devon Travis, evidenced by his .148 batting average (BA) and .206 weighted on-base average (wOBA). In terms of both stats, Travis’ April (plus very late March) was the second-worst calendar month of his career.

 

While dire, that observation had one silver lining: his worst-ever month was last April (and very late March). So, while things were bad, he’s bounced back from worst—May 2017 was his second-best month ever, in terms of both BA and wOBA.

 

In late April, Travis was sent down to AAA Buffalo for some plate approach rehab, spending nearly a month down there. 18 games into his second big-league stint this season, it would appear that this rehab worked! In this stretch, he’s produced an excellent .316 BA.

 

Importantly, he is not simply benefiting from a run of good batted ball luck. As the graph below demonstrates, his BA (blue line) and xBA (red line) have been trending upwards in lock-step with each other. The takeaway: he’s getting more base-hits because he’s making better contact. In contrast, during his rough start, he was both making worse contact (note his career-worst 15-game xBA) and getting unlucky (his 15-game BA was even worse).

 

 

In the 18 games since his return to Toronto, Travis has produced a .372 wOBA. This captures the fact that he isn’t just slapping singles out there, but instead generating the kind of contact that leads to extra bases. As with his BA, Travis’ wOBA is well-supported by his xwOBA. He isn’t getting lucky right now, he’s just making great contact and getting the results that said contact “deserves”. Notably, his current 15-game xwOBA of .376 is one of the best marks of his career.

 

 

Further evidence of his strong plate approach can be found in his walk rate. In his last 18 games, he has walked in 6.6% of his plate appearances, modestly better than his career walk rate of 5.1% and a lot better than his early 2018 mark (2.9%). Similarly, he has cut his strikeout rate down quite a bit, from 29% pre-demotion to 18% since he’s been recalled.

 

 

Travis is also making good contact in a high proportion of plate appearances, a big change from earlier in the season. [Here, “Good Contact” captures the three categories of good contact that Statcast keeps track of: barrels, solid contact and flares/burners.] Back then, he was generating good contact in only 19.7% of his plate appearances. As the graph below shows, his Good Contact Rate early on in 2018 was the worst of his career.

 

In contrast, over the last 18 games, Travis has made good contact in 32.8% of his plate appearances. That isn’t quite a career-best for Travis—that would be up around 40%—but it is better than his career average (29.6%).

 

 

When he was demoted, Devon Travis was neither walking nor making good contact with any frequency—his combined BB + Good Contact% was a career low 22.6%. Since then, he’s looked a lot more like vintage Travis, producing one of the very best stretches of his career in this regard—he has generated positive plate appearances 39.4% of the time since his call-up, with his last 15 games being particularly exceptional.

 

 

Clearly, Devon Travis has made some concrete improvements at the plate since his return. These improvements have resulted in more walks and an increase in the amount of good contact he generates.

 

Devon Travis’ calling card is getting his bat to the ball. From 2015-17, he more frequently made contact with pitches in the strike zone (Z-Contact% of 90.6%) than about 77% of his fellow major-leaugers (among 300 batters with at least 750 PA). That helped him maintain a solid whiff rate of 8.3%, better than 73% of his peers.

 

However, prior to his demotion in April, Travis was producing the worst zone contact (82.3%) and whiff rates (11%) of his career. Since his return, he has managed to make contact with pitches in the zone more frequently than ever (95.4%), which has helped him lower his whiff rate (7.8%) down below his career norm.

 

Now, staying healthy is the key, which is obviously easier said than done with our friend Devon. A recent knee scare is very fresh evidence of that. However, if he does stay healthy, the sky’s the limit for him, if for no reason than he has traditionally excelled in the final months of seasons.

 

Over his career, he has been a below-average hitter in March, April and May. In 449 PA during these early months, he has produced a .246 BA and .309 wOBA, good for a 92 wRC+. From June onward, he has been electric. In 546 career PA, he has produced a .314 BA and .352 wOBA, good for a 121 wRC+. The summer warmth seems to serve him well.

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.

Jeff Quattrociocchi

I'm an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.