Monday, April 23, 2012

Travis Snider and annoying sports narratives

Some Blue Jays fans might be wondering how the loser of the only real Spring Training competition is doing in AAA - as it turns out, he's doing quite well! Explains the Canadian Press, "Travis Snider is sending the Toronto Blue Jays’ brass an early-season message. The 24-year-old slugger, who lost the battle for Toronto’s left-fielder job to Eric Thames at spring training, is off to an excellent start with the triple-A Las Vegas 51s."

Travis Snider, sans last year's mullet

Excellent might actually be an understatement - in 69 PAs, Snider has a triple-slash of .450/.522/.800, good enough for 153% better than the park-adjusted AAA average. (To clarify, that isn't 153% of average, which is superstar-level - that's 153% above, which is comparable to Barry Bonds vs. the MLB average in 2001-4.) That means it's completely unsustainable, of course, and that Snider is getting insanely lucky - especially because he's only (I should probably say "only") hit four homers in that span and has a ridonkulous .469 BABIP. But I'm already letting numbers get in the way of the narrative...

So, to what do we attribute Snider's seeming improvement? Tweaks to his swing mechanics? Some new workout regimen? Random variance? The fact that this is his third go at AAA, which means he's dangerously close to becoming one of those AAAA guys who, for some reason,  just can't hit Major League pitching and is successful by virtue of preying on much less experienced opponents?

The CP article continues, "While he’s had spurts of such productivity before, this time he’s doing it with a high level of confidence and maturity." Ah, I see. It's maturity. Snider also says something about focus, which also becomes part of the narrative, because "[t]hat renewed focus seems to be paying off for the Jays’ former first-round pick."

I've already hinted at how his performance is so far beyond explanation that we need to attribute some significant portion of it to fluke. But the CP article actually anticipates my next critique with its reference to "spurts of such productivity before". Because Snider was also excellent last year at AAA, where he hit .327/.394/.480. (And he was even better in both 2009 and 2008.) If he's found his focus at AAA this year, it wouldn't be the first time - and one hopes that he doesn't lose it as quickly and completely as he did last year. Which isn't to say that you can't build a story around "focus", but if you're going to frame the story that way, you need to account for last year, too, or the frame just flies apart at the seams.

I realize that the guy who wrote the article is just looking for an angle, but why go to the trouble of inventing one - especially one that's so boring? Why not put some work into it and try to find the actual explanation?

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