By Jason Shetler
As this past offseason was coming to an end, the Pirates had addressed most of their needs. One need however that was missing was a true fourth outfielder. It seemed as though Sean Rodriguez was going to fill that role until the Bucs decided to bring in Matt Joyce.
Joyce signed a minor league deal with the Pirates on the day that pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training. He struggled last season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, posting a .563 OPS. Joyce however dealt with extreme bad luck at the plate, as evidence of his .215 BABIP, so there was the chance of him being a bounce back candidate. Prior to signing with Pittsburgh, he put up a solid walk rate of 11.4% and had a .777 OPS along with a 118 OPS+ with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009 to 2014.
The fact that Joyce is a left-handed bat made even more sense with the Pirates having a right-handed heavy bench entering Spring Training. While some doubted that he wasn’t a lock to make the club, I never questioned that he wouldn’t based on GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle knowing that he could bounce back, and therefore was going to make the Opening Day roster. That decision has paid huge dividends in the early going, as Joyce has posted a 1.305 OPS. Most of that great work has been as a pinch-hitter, putting up a .556 on base percentage with two homers and six RBIs in that role. Joyce right now has a .474 BABIP, so those stats will come back down to earth, but based on his good on base ability, he can still be above average nonetheless. While it may be easy to say it now, the signing of Matt Joyce was a great one all along.