Joyce has hit bottom
Former cleanup hitter falls to ninth in lineup, and Angels are considering other options in left field.
Matt Joyce might have reached the proverbial last house on the block, and there does not appear to be unlimited parking out front.
After opening 2015 in the cleanup spot and hitting sixth or seventh for most of the season, the Angels left fielder was dropped to ninth Saturday night against the Oakland Athletics. Joyce went 0 for 3, but C.J. Wilson threw two-hit ball over seven innings and the Angels won, 1-0.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated and disappointed,” Joyce said of his descent to the bottom of the order. “But I’m still in the lineup. I’m still getting a chance to play andmake the most of it.”
Those chances could dry up very soon if Joyce, 30, doesn’t shake a season-long slump and give the Angels something close to the production they expected when they traded reliever Kevin Jepsen to Tampa Bay for Joyce last winter.
Joyce entered Saturday with a .181 average, .266 on-base percentage, .316 slugging percentage, four homers, 17 runs batted in, 46 strikeouts and 18 walks. His wins-above replacement mark of -1.3 was the second-lowest among major league qualifiers.
As a comparison, Raul Ibanez had a .157/.258/.265 slash line with three homers and 21 RBIs when the Angels released him last June 21.
General Manager Jerry Dipoto is pursuing left-handed-hitting outfielders in trades, and Efren Navarro, who has a knack for stringing together quality at-bats, could cut into Joyce’s playing time.
The Angels even began working out third baseman Kyle Kubitza, who was called up from triple-A Salt Lake on Wednesday, in left field Saturday to give them another possible left-handed-hitting option in the outfield. Kubitza has played all of two minor league games in left field in five years.
“I remember Gene Mauch saying something that always stuck with me, that hitters will hit,” Angels hitting coach Don Baylor said. “It might take two weeks, three weeks, a month, but hitters will hit.
“So I keep thinking that will happen with Matt, where something clicks, he gets a couple of hits, he comes back the next day feeling good about himself and gets a couple more hits. He’s just trying to figure his swing out.”
Joyce, who had a .250 career average with 88 homers in six seasons entering 2015, improved during a 23-game stretch from May 12 through last Tuesday, compiling a .254/.361/.479 slash line with three homers, seven doubles, 10 RBIs and 10 walks. But he has no RBIs in his last 11 games.
“I’m now here near where I’d like tobe,” Joyce said. “It’s a daily grind. Nobody’s going to lay pitches over the heart of the plate. Defenses aren’t going to let balls go by them. I’m trying to get good pitches and square them up.”
That has been a challenge. Joyce’s hard-hit rate, the percentage of balls he puts in play that are classified as hard hit, is a careerlow 23.6% according to Fangraphs, far below his career rate of 30.7%.
According to Brooks Baseball, the majority of Joyce’s strikeouts are on off-speed and breaking pitches, not fastballs.
“Just imagine if he wasn’t taking his walks,” Baylor said. “A lot of times when you’re not swinging good, you’re swinging at everything.”
Joyce’s improved OBP is one of the reasons he was moved to the ninth spot.
“The one thing Matt has been doing is getting on base,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Though it’s not ideal for any player to say I’m hitting ninth, it’s important to the structure of our lineup with Mike [Trout] hitting second and Albert [Pujols] third.”
The majority of Joyce’s ground balls are hit to the right side, and with opponents heavily shifting against Joyce, most are outs.
Joyce said he works on hitting to the opposite field in batting practice, “but you can’t really force it to happen,” he said. “If they throw it outside, try to stay on it and hit it that way. It’s a lot easier said than done.”
Baylor had some pointed words for Joyce and Pujols about extreme defensive alignments.
“I told them a month ago, ‘Screw the shift,’ ” Baylor said. “Just hit the ball and let it go where it’s going to go. You might hit into the shift. And you might elevate a ball and hit it out of the park.”
OAKLAND’S Josh Phegley is doubled off second base by Angels shortstop Erick Aybar to end the seventh inning after first baseman Efren Navarro snagged a line drive by Stephen Vogt.