The Post Post-Hype Sleeper: Travis Snider
As a highly touted prospect, Travis Snider has received second, third, and maybe even fourth chances despite totaling just a .246/.310/.406 slash line through 1,706 plate appearances. He went from hyped prospect, to post-hype sleeper, to mostly forgotten man after a change of scenery deal in the summer of 2012 appeared to do little to unlock the potential in his bat. All of that said, he’ll be turning just 27 years old a couple months before Opening Day, and he showed just enough potential last year to be back on deep mixed league and NL-Only league radars entering this season.
First of all, two outfield spots are locked up with 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen playing center field and Starling Marte locking up left field, that leaves right field to be filled. Stud graduated prospect, and superior athlete and defender (according to scouting reports, so I’ll give him a pass on unfavorable defensive metrics in his rookie season), Gregory Polanco is the favorite to win the job. However, and anyone who has followed the career of Snider understands this first hand, sometimes high upside young players fail to translate their minor league numbers to the majors immediately. Even in a ho-hum rookie season, Polanco showed enough to feel relatively comfortable that he’ll succeed at the big league level, and he has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level. The fact he’s expected to win the starting job in the spring has led to the Pirates reportedly shopping Snider, namely preliminary discussions around Brian Matusz of the Orioles that didn’t heat up. A deal away from PNC Park and out of a fourth outfielder gig would be ideal, but NL-only gamers with large-ish benches should still be willing to roll the dice on Snider if he opens the year in yellow and black.
Back to Snider’s on-field performance that spurred me to write this piece. When he was working his way up the minor league ladder his carrying tool was his raw power, but with his pop came questions about strikeouts undermining it. Not exactly an original tale for a young power hitting prospect, and like many before him, strikeouts nipped his pop in the bud. In his career he’s struck out in 25.0% of his plate appearances. Last year he made huge strides in making contact posting just an 8.1% swinging strike rate per FanGraphs (9.4% was the league average and 11.0% is Snider’s career mark), and that uptick in contact led to a career low strikeout rate of just 18.7%. Interestingly his reduced strikeout rate didn’t come at the expense of working counts and walks, as his 9.5% walk rate was better than the league average of 8.9%, and better than his career mark of 8.3%. An improved approach at the plate and noticeable gains in putting wood on the ball provide optimism for more dingers to come in 2015, as does his raw power resulting in the ninth highest average home run and flyball distance as measured by Baseball Heat Maps.
Parsing data, especially an already small sample of the 359 plate appearances Snider had in 2014, is often unwise and can create false narratives and unreasonable expectations. With that in mind, I’m still intrigued by Snider’s second half stats last year, as it’s not out of the question that the light went on for the then 26-year old hitter. In 188 plate appearances in the second half of the season Snider ripped nine homers, walked in 9.0% of his plate appearances while striking out in just 17.6% of them and hit .288/356/.524 with a .235 ISO and 149 wRC+. For those unfamiliar with wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), 100 represents an average offensive player and to put things into further perspective, a 149 wRC+ would have ranked 10th among qualified hitters sandwiched between the 150 wRC+ Edwin Encarnacion tallied and the 147 wRC+ marks posted by Miguel Cabrera and Yasiel Puig. Of course I’m not suggesting Snider is in the same tier of hitter as that trio, but if he’s just now tapping into his potential a full-time gig could easily make him rosterable in 12-team mixed leagues and larger formats. Bookmark Snider as a lotto ticket worth keeping tabs on in the spring.