New swing rejuvenates Pirates’ Joyce
DENVER – Matt Joyce has been an All-Star. He’s in his ninth major league season. He has spent much of his career as a platoon outfielder mashing right-handers.
The experience and success Joyce has enjoyed made his assessment Monday in Colorado of interest. In his fourth start of the season, Joyce recorded two hits including a pivotal three-run homer in the seventh inning.
“To be honest with you, I feel as good as I’ve ever felt,” Joyce said. “I’m really excited where I’m at right now with everything I’ve learned over the last so many months. I worked with some guys that really know their stuff.”
It’s what Joyce has learned, and who he has learned from, that has elevated him from status as a player on the roster bubble in March — invited to spring training on a non-guaranteed contract — to one that looks to have become an important left-handed bench bat and reserve outfielder for the Pirates.
Joyce is batting .320 and slugging .600 entering play Tuesday.
After hitting a career-low .174 last season for the Los Angeles Angels, Joyce went searching for a fix to his swing. He studied the game’s best hitters and two who had worked with private instructors to make swing adjustments to elevate their games: J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers and Josh Donaldson of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Late last season, Joyce began working with Craig Wallenbrock at various hitting facilities around Southern California.
Wallenbrock had helped turn Martinez from a fringe major leaguer to a star.
Last winter in Tampa, Fla. — where Joyce makes his offseason home — he worked with Bobby Tewksbary at the University of Central Florida and at a batting-cage facility called the “Stance Doctor” in St. Petersburg, Fla. Donaldson, the reigning AL MVP, was so appreciative of Tewksbary’s help he invited him to pitch to him during last season’s Home Run Derby.
“You read things about Donaldson and Tewksbary, they are trying to get you on plane with the ball and stay on that plane,” said Joyce, who has incorporated more lift to his swing. “I think hitting is really about putting yourself into good positions. When you look at the best hitters in the game, you’ll notice that they put themselves in very similar positions. Ideally you want to create the most bat-speed as possible, get your swing on the same plane (as the pitch), and stay in the zone on the path to the ball long as possible.”
The new swing has helped Joyce better use the whole field. For his career Joyce has hit only 21 percent of batted balls in play to the opposite field, including 19.7 percent last season.
This season, Joyce has hit 29.4 percent of balls to the opposite field, including both of his hits Monday.
“That was something I really didn’t have before to really kind of use the whole field and take a tough pitch and stay on it and stay through it,” Joyce said. “I’m 31 and have played this game for a long time and I am still learning.”
Said manager Clint Hurdle: “He has some confidence and some skills. It was just trying to find a way to put that model back together. I think he’s doing a pretty good job of it right now.”