You’ve read the title. Hold that thought.
The Toronto Blue Jays acquired second baseman Devon Travis from the Detroit Tigers last offseason. Having never played above Double-A prior to 2015, the Jays thrust Travis into major league action in a trial by fire. He held his own and then some, hitting a robust .304/.361/.498 with eight home runs and three stolen bases in only 238 plate appearances.
Travis may have experienced some good luck, benefiting from a .347 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) as well as a 16-percent rate of home runs per fly ball (HR/FB) — an impressive rate for a 5-foot-9, 195-pound 24-year-old. The 50-percent ground ball rate (GB%) and somewhat lowly 27.8-percent hard-hit rate (Hard%) don’t help his case in regard to the latter, either.
So Travis’ .194 isolated power (ISO) may not hold up under duress of the 2016 season. But he did post decent ISOs in the minors — .210 at High-A in 2013, .161 at Double-A in 2014 — and although the quality of competition pales in comparison to the real thing, it wouldn’t be unheard of for Travis to develop a modest power stroke. Kid’s something of a doubles machine, which would be a boon to any stat line.
Moreover, Travis is a spray hitter with opposite-field tendencies. In fact, Travis hit the opposite way most frequently and to the pull side least frequently. Among hitters who accrued at least 230 plate appearances, only Cory Spangenberg, he of a .344 BABIP, also accomplished this feat. Also, among the 16 hitters who hit more than a third of their balls in play to the opposite field, 11 of them (69 percent) posted BABIPs better than .330.
Now, let go of your thought. Set it down in front of you. Unwrap it slowly.
Devon Travis’ spray chart is ludicrous. (Edit, 2:17 pm ET: The image is now dynamic. Do yourself a favor and isolate Travis’ home runs, fly balls and line drives individually.)
I (had) stripped away the ground balls to emphasize the true absurdity of the spray chart. Let’s start with the purple dots. They represent bloopers, and although it’s hard to tell, there’s only two of them there. Not a lot of bloopers. That’s a good start.
Move on to the red dots. Those are line drives. Most of them are on the right side. So, too, are the blue dots, which represent fly balls. In fact, Travis hit only six fly balls to his pull side, and five of them left the infield.
Those five also left the ballpark. That’s right: for 2015, Travis sports a 100-percent HR/FB to his pull side. All of his home runs, even the ones up the middle, left the park on Travis’ pull side, except maybe the one to dead center.
It’s truly the strangest thing. Scope his heat maps and it only serves to further confound the absurdity.
I had not the time nor fortune to watch a lot of Travis this year (I encourage you to forgive me for this fault), nor am I swing expert. But: he must have an inside-out swing, and he must deliberately approach each plate appearance with right field in mind. Because (almost) every ball hit into play with authority goes up the middle or oppo. Unless you serve him cheese on the inside half of the plate — then he’ll yank it.
It all seems deliberate. It transcends small sample sizes, and it blows my mind.
Anyway, Travis, as a minor leaguer, exhibited solid plate discipline, posting walk rates (BB%) no lower than than 7.6 percent and strikeout rates (K%) no higher than 13.6 percent at any given level in 2013 and 2014. He didn’t quite maintain his momentum, as his chase rate (O-Swing%) ranked in the 37th percentile.
In his defense, however, his contact rate on pitches outside the zone (O-Contact%) ranked in the 76th percentile. He didn’t improve in his propensity to chase as the season progressed, but his contact skills bailed him out and will probably continue to do so as he matures. Given his aforementioned ludicrous oppo tendencies, perhaps his chase rate isn’t such a bad thing — as long as he’s making solid contact.
Steamer’s projections are the only ones FanGraphs has available at the moment. Regardless, Travis’ outlook is sunny: Steamer pegs him to finish, among second basemen, 12th in wRC+, 10th in WAR and 9th in wOBA. It anticipates 14 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 543 plate appearances to go with a .273/.326/.424 triple-slash line.
I’ll take the under on the power and speed. I’ll be stoked if he crosses the double-digit threshold for each category, but I wouldn’t draft him expecting it. (The idea, however ridiculous it may be, that he can launch one on command, has me thoroughly intrigued.) And I’ll take the over on the .306 BABIP. With an inflated BABIP due to special batted ball skills and some plate discipline improvements, another .300 batting average is well within reach and would easily compensate for a few missing homers and steals.
My only non-trivial concern with Travis’ 2016 performance deals with this alleged exploratory surgery on his shoulder this offseason. It seemed like a minor procedure that shouldn’t inhibit his health in March, but you never know. His offensive and decent defensive acumen should help him stave off Ryan Goins for the starting second base job come spring training.
If he can win the role, it sounds like he may gun for top-10 value at the position. His draft value may be dampened because of his injury-plagued debut, perhaps setting up potential owners for a draft day bargain.