#DeepDives: Matt Joyce: Lefty Legend

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

If you are a casual baseball fan, you may or may not know who Matt Joyce is, as he has been a solid MLB player from 2008 to present. He began his career with a stint in Detroit, but the best years of his career came with the Rays from 2009-2014, even making the All-Star Game in 2011. Since then, he has bounced around a bit, playing for the Angels, Pirates, Athletics, Braves, and now the Marlins. If you’re a Pirates fan like a few of my colleagues, you might remember him, and if you are a fan of the Mets, like me, you have seen plenty of Matt Joyce in the past few years.

The other day, I was watching the Mets play the Marlins in this coronavirus-shortened 2020 season and I heard an interesting stat. Mets announcer Gary Cohen said that Matt Joyce, now on the Marlins, struggled against left-handed pitchers in his career. He brought this up because Mets left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve was pitching to him, and sure enough, Shreve got him to strike out swinging. I forgot about the quote until I randomly remembered it later, and boy, I was not prepared for the rabbit hole of stats I was about to go down.

Cohen had said Joyce hit .187 against lefties in his career, and I thought this was pretty interesting, so I hopped onto trusty Baseball Reference to check out his splits, and sure enough, in his career, in only 493 AB against lefties (wild enough already given that he has played since 2008), he has slashed .187/.270/.306 against southpaws as compared to .253/.355/.451 against righties. Normal fans would stop there and say “Oh, he probably is just a righty-specialist,” but if you’re like me, you want to take a deeper dive. 

Joyce has seen right-handers WAY more than left-handers. He has logged almost 2,600 more plate appearances against right-handers. This is pretty interesting, as he also has 686 more hits against right-handers than left-handers, but this isn’t even the wildest thing. Of his 145 career home runs as of August 21, 2020, only 12 of them have come against southpaws. This blew my mind then, but if you look at the stark contrast in plate appearances, it makes more sense. I dove even deeper, looking at all his career home runs against lefties, and this is where things started to get interesting.

Matt Joyce did not hit a home run off a left-handed pitcher until May 15, 2011, when he took Mike Gonzalez of the Baltimore Orioles deep in a 9-3 loss for his 31st career long ball. You would think with Joyce having to wait three years to hit his first, it would take a while for him to hit his next one right? WRONG. He took C.J. Wilson of the Texas Rangers deep just a mere 16 days later. But Matt was not done-- two days after that, he took Seattle Mariners pitcher Aaron Laffey deep at Safeco Field-- capping off a stretch of three homers off lefties in 18 days. This was crazy enough-- how does a guy who has never taken a lefty yard do it three times in the span of three weeks? The world may never know. Baseball is amazing.

In October of that season, facing the same Texas Rangers in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, Joyce swatted his only career postseason home run-- this time, off lefty Derek Holland. His ONLY career postseason homer is off a lefty. Unreal.

In 2012, Joyce would add another trio of longballs off lefties, making that half of the 12 in two seasons, seven if you count the one in the postseason. After 2012, Joyce would cool off a bit, packing the remaining six homers from 2013-2018. He hasn’t homered off a lefty since he took Vidal Nuño III of his former Rays just over the O.co Coliseum fence on May 31, 2018, for his 12th, and to date, final homer off a lefty.

Nothing really more interesting about his splits besides the fact that the only lefty he has taken deep twice is 5x All-Star and 3x WS Champion Jon Lester. After diving deeper into his stats, I am glad I did. I have looked up and talked about Matt Joyce more this week than I ever have before and will again, even making a YouTube video of all his lefty home runs. Baseball is amazing, and Matt Joyce is making sure to keep it that way, even if he doesn’t know it.