Travis Snider had a huge game for Las Vegas last night, going 4-for-5 with a double and two home runs, and intensifying the calls for him to be promoted, and questions about why it was Anthony Gose and not he who got the call in the wake of Jose Bautista’s injury.
Our old friend the Tao of Stieb is leading the charge in this regard, absolutely losing his mind over the relationship between player and club, which he calls “a step short of abusive and a step beyond insulting.” Gose’s apparent leapfrogging of Snider on the depth chart was, for him, the final straw in a long line of abuses that has, in the past two years, seen the Jays decide “that Rajai Davis, Eric Thames, Ben Francisco, Corey Patterson, Juan Rivera, Dewayne Wise, Adam Loewen and Mike McCoy were all better options than Travis Snider,” which would sound pretty damning if it were entirely true, or if the situation weren’t a little more complicated than that.
Loewen didn’t suit up for the Jays until September of last year, after Snider had been shut down with wrist tendinitis, for example. Rivera and Snider were both in the lineup most of April of last year, and Snider was hurt for the majority of the time while Rivera was playing the outfield from mid-June until he was dealt to Los Angeles in early July, meaning that Rivera was only technically ahead of him on the left field depth chart for about ten games. McCoy played alongside Snider in the outfield at the start of last year, after Rajai Davis went down Opening Day, and again only for a few games in mid-August before Snider, then in the minors, was shut down. Dewayne Wise also only patrolled the Jays’ outfield after Snider was finished, in late August and for much of September. And this year you can’t really say that Ben Francisco has had a starting gig at all.
But sure, the overall point stands that the Jays have put some terrible players ahead of Snider.
Eric Thames’ 2011 was on par with Snider’s 2010, except that Snider actually provided defensive value and was perceived as having a far higher offensive upside. This year Rajai Davis has sunk into fucking oblivion, posting worse numbers in terms of on-base, OPS, wOBA and wRC+ than even the meagre numbers Snider has posted during his unsuccessful and intermittent big league stints. And Anthony Gose, while extremely talented, is very young, and very green at the plate.
Absent of context, it’s hard to see a reason for Snider to have ever ceded playing time to any of these guys (unless you’re one of those poor souls who asininely believes Snider has already demonstrated more than enough that he can’t succeed at the big league level). But context here is kind of the whole story.
Snider Starts Behind Thames…
In handing the Opening Day job to Eric Thames, the Jays went with the less talented player and a far inferior defender, but seemed to be insulating themselves from a bad situation down the road, and keeping the interests of Snider and his development at the fore.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the belief here has been that the Jays wanted stability for Snider– who had played 20 or more games at multiple levels in each year since he spent all of 2007 at Low-A Lansing– and to keep him out of an endless cycle of promotion, failure, and demotion. In my view, as a team with at least nominal pretensions of being in a playoff race, the Jays would have faced internal pressure to replace Snider in the lineup, had he struggled in the early part of the season– as they did with Thames.
Yes, it’s debatable whether another mid-season demotion would have been such a setback, but taking this approach had the added benefit of letting Snider continue to work out of the spotlight on the mechanical changes he made over the winter, and setting him up to smoothly take over for a struggling Thames, rather than having to press at the big league level as he constantly looked over his shoulder.
Viewed that way, it can be argued that the Jays chose the better environment for Snider to work in– one which set him up better for success down the road– while at the same time rewarding Thames and giving him the opportunity to show that the positives they saw in his bat in 2011 were no joke.
Thames is Replaced by Davis…
When Eric Thames was finally demoted on May 28th there were two main reasons why Snider wasn’t called upon to step into his spot. For one, Rajai Davis was in the midst of a spectacular month. In 17 May games Davis had put up a wOBA of .415 and a 166 wRC+, and his 2009 season with Oakland told us that, while it would be crazy to expect him to keep on producing like that, he was capable of playing a whole lot better than we’ve grown accustomed to during his time in Toronto.
The other reason is that Snider was hurt. He wouldn’t come off the DL in Vegas until June 9th, and after that the power stroke that had seen him amass 14 extra base hits before April 23rd eluded him. Meanwhile, Davis continued to produce at a league average rate, all the way to the end of June, when he still sported a .280/.331/.433/.765 line.
So, as frustrating as it may be to see Davis ahead of Snider, it’s really only been in the last 15 games that he’s truly turned back into a pumpkin, with a .140/.200/.220/.420 line. Add in that the Jays seem to give just a little bit more rope to players (y’know, not named Travis Snider) than fans are generally willing to tolerate, that it may be hard to sell Davis as a (minor) trade piece as you’re completely give up on him yourself, and that Snider hasn’t exactly been lighting Vegas on fire either, and maybe we see why they hadn’t yet made a move. Until…
Bautista Gets Hurt, Gose Gets Called Up
Yes, the call-up of Anthony Gose instead of Snider, and the decision to start his service clock and expose him to Major League pitching he’s probably not ready for is an interesting one, but there are plausible reasons here, too.
I wrote last week that Snider, at the time of the announcement, had just one extra-base hit and a .781 OPS over his previous 10 games, compared to Gose’s three and .927. There’s also the fact that Alex Anthopoulos has stated that he wants Travis Snider to be up for good the next time that he gets the call, and as a temporary fill-in for Bautista, that’s not the assignment here.
Anthopoulos also said on the radio last week that “You’d like to get these guys up here when they are hot.” I don’t know if that’s a confidence thing– they certainly used that word a lot when it came to Adam Lind, and it seems to have paid off, having him return to the Majors really comfortable with what he’s doing at the plate– or if it’s just lip service, but certainly Gose was hitting better than Snider in the near-term when the decision was made.
Guy Spurrier of the National Post puts forth more speculation, wondering if “Snider is not fully healed from his own wrist injury,” and that the “Jays might prefer, again, to let him keep working in Las Vegas.”
It’s also possible, he adds, that “Anthopoulos and Farrell didn’t like what the batting lineup looked like with Snider but without Bautista. They preferred, instead, to go with something like this — Davis/Gose, Lawrie, Rasmus, Encarnacion, Lind, Escobar, Johnson, Arencibia, Gose/Davis — rather stick Snider into the middle or bottom of the lineup, move Encarnacion into No. 3 and try to find a No. 4 hitter. It is probably better to leave Adam Lind out of the No. 4 spot while he is hitting well and gaining confidence, and it is a bad fit for anyone else.”
Again, we’re chasing a ghost called confidence, but it sometimes seems to be one that the Jays really do believe in.
Following that kind of thinking, I’ll throw out one more potential reason that Gose got the call: to send a message to Snider and Thames about their precarious position on the depth chart.
This is territory I don’t normally enter– generally because most times it’s total bunk– but… I don’t know here. Snider certainly has started hitting better since Gose was pulled from Monday’s game, going 3-for-4 that night, 1-for-4 Tuesday, and following it up with Wednesday’s big night, as discussed way back in the opening sentence of this post. I’m not suggesting that he was fucking around, biding his time for an inevitable call-up and got a hard awakening this week, but whatever brought his extra-base power back last night is a welcome development. Heading into the game, Snider had produced just 11 extra-base since April– itself potentially part of the reason why Gose may have got the call, or perhaps an indication of the lingering effects of injury, as Spurrier wonders about.
And if you really want to stretch for reasons, Gose and his ugly platoon split don’t render Ben Francisco as entirely useless as Snider would, either, and perhaps the club thinks it doesn’t hurt to have him get some MLB exposure, or wants to bluff other teams into believing they think he’s more ready than the sane world might believe.
Yes, it’s all fairly convoluted, but is it any crazier to believe that Snider is somehow being purposely held down, to his own detriment and the detriment of a potentially key asset for the club? I just can’t possibly think so.
Note: As I finish up this post, Snider has been pinch hit for in his second at-bat of the bat-around second inning of tonight’s 51s game. He homered to start the inning. No word yet as to why…
Image via Jonathan Ferrey/Getty.