Devon Travis – Two Years Equal One Strong Full Season

Paul tackled the top 15 options at second base. Just missing the cut but earning an honorable mention was Devon Travis. Since reaching the bigs in 2015, he’s been a highly productive offensive player at the keystone position tallying a .301/.342/.469 line with a 119 wRC+. The biggest knock on Travis is that a shoulder injury that required off-season surgery last November has limited him to almost exactly one full season (163 games and 670 plate appearances) of work in The Show. The good news for Travis’ outlook going forward is that once he made his season debut for the Blue Jays on May 25th, he stayed healthy and avoided being bit by the injury bug the remainder (he did suffer a knee injury in the postseason that required an arthroscopic procedure, but he’s expected to be fully ready by spring training). Also, the further removed from his DL activation, the better Travis hit.

He started his season with a five-game hit streak in six May contests, but none of the games featured multiple hits, and he tallied only one extra-base hit. For the 2016 season, Travis hit .300/.332/.454 with a 109 wRC+. However, if you eliminate his six games in May, those marks move to .306/.337/.466 and a 114 RC+. Travis’ numbers also greatly improved from the first half (.264/.304/.439 and 96 wRC+) to the second half (.321/.348/.462 and 117 wRC+). He began his season hitting down order, but he spent most of August and September hitting atop the high-powered Blue Jays lineup. In 199 plate appearances hitting leadoff, Travis was quite aggressive and managed a pathetic 2.0% walk rate with a 21.1% strikeout rate. His .323 OBP hitting leadoff was largely fueled by a .309 batting average and .374 BABIP. The BABIP is probably a touch lucky, but be careful projecting too much regression.

In the majors, Travis owns a .354 BABIP that’s generated by an all-field approach. He has an insanely even distribution of batted balls in the majors with 33.7% being pulled, 32.9% hit up the middle and 33.3% hit to the opposite field. He’s also the owner of a .334 BABIP in High-A, Double-A, Triple-A and the Arizona Fall League combined prior to this year, so he’s no stranger to posting a high BABIP. Travis should be an asset in batting average, especially if he cuts his strikeout rate under 20% and remains atop Toronto’s lineup. This year, Travis bested the league average O-Contact% of 63.9% with a 71.7% mark, and he bested the league average Z-Contact% of 86.3% by tallying a 90.5% mark. Travis’ strikeout rate was only 1% better than the league average of 21.1% in 2016, but if he continues to best the league average contact rates by such a wide margin, he should easily be able to pare his strikeout rate to under 20%. As for remaining atop the order, it’s unclear if that will remain the case. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are free agents, the team has added Kendrys Morales, and they’re in the market for outfield help. For now, I would anticipate on Travis hitting leadoff, but that could change. If he does hit leadoff, even if both Bautista and Encarnacion sign elsewhere, there’s ample fire power behind Travis in the form of Josh Donaldson (154 wRC+ in two years with the Blue Jays) and Kendrys Morales (120 wRC+ the last two years). Troy Tulowitzki owns just a 99 wRC+ with the Blue Jays, but after his activation from the disabled list on June 18th he ripped off a 115 wRC+. The team could still re-sign Encarnacion, and even if they don’t, it’s probable they’ll add offensive help in some capacity. This is all a long winded way of saying that Travis should be an asset in runs scored hitting atop what will likely be an above average offensive lineup and calling a hitter-friendly park home.

If Travis is nudged down the order, he’d swap runs upside for RBI opportunities. Power isn’t a huge part of Travis’ game with 19 homers in 670 plate appearances in the majors and only 11 in 432 plate appearances this year, but he’s not a total dud in the category. Furthermore, there are a few reasons for optimism regarding a step forward in long balls. Travis is in the back half of his 20’s, so he could age into old-man strength. The second baseman’s power could have been hampered a bit by his shoulder issues in his rookie year and as he recovered from shoulder surgery. As for more tangible reasons for optimism, his Hard% rose from 27.8% in 2015 to 29.2% this year, and he bumped his flyball rate up from 28.4% to 34.4%. Travis also pulled the ball more (31.3% in 2015 and 35.1% this season), and his Pull% surged to 38.4% in the second half of 2016. It’s possible pulling the ball more could knock his average down some, but if he does so while adding more long balls, the trade off might prove to be worth it.

Stolen bases probably don’t come to mind when thinking about Travis’ skill-set, but he’s an efficient base stealer. He’s stolen seven bases in nine attempts in the majors, he stole 16 bases in 21 attempts at the Double-A level in 100 games in 2014 and he stole 22 bases in 26 attempts in 132 games played split between Single-A and High-A in 2013. A total of 22 players who were eligible at second base in ESPN leagues reached double-digit steals, and six of those players played fewer than 20 games at second base this year and will lose eligibility at the position at many fantasy providers such as ESPN in 2017. Only five teams attempted fewer steals than the Blue Jays this year, and that hurts Travis’ odds of reaching double-digit steals, but his efficiency coupled with his minor league track record indicates there’s at least a chance he could hit that threshold. Overall, I’d feel comfortable drafting Travis as my starting second baseman in a 12-team mixed league, and I’d be delighted to use him as my middle infielder.

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I like looking at his overall line so far too.

But if you are parsing out his slow start (not that you should), as he did come back from a major injury with next to no rehab games and no spring training, then it was a good 15gms of nothing to start the season (59pa, 6wrc+) after which he posted a 126wrc+ the rest of the way.