Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rogers Davidi vs Pirate Snider: my take

Snider saga of growing up now online!

 Travis Snider before the 2011 season.
Shi Davidi's three part "saga" on Snider's career can be found at Sportsnet. It's really an excellent read in journalism. Shi took a 90 minute interview with Snider, talked to club ownership, and really put together the whole article in a way that spread the "blame" around. Some people have commented that Snider needed to grow up, that he was a "diva" while others blamed Gaston/Tenace/Anthopoulos.

For me, it's a mix of both. In the end, there are many factors that led to Snider's trade to the Pirates and these are precised below: 
  1. Travis wasn't mentally prepared for MLB.
  2. The Blue Jays (Cito/Tenace) didn't understand his mental makeup and treated him poorly.
  3. The logjam in leftfield and the number of options that Anthopoulos had available hurt his chances for a permanent promotion.
  4. As a result of Travis' mental fragility and untimely injuries and bad timing, he never meshed with the club management and didn't perform well.
  5. When he finally did get promoted, due to injuries and very poor performance by the AAA callups, Anthopolous went shopping for a bullpen at the trade deadline and Travis (and Thames) were victims of trade.
There is a great background read at Yahoo Sports dated April 10, 2009 (Life Lessons came early for Snider). In short, Snider's (at age 14) mom went into a coma. When she came out of it, she had liver damage, memory loss, and her husband (Travis' dad) left him, putting him into the caretaker role and forcing him into counselling for anger management. And just when he thought he was done for it, his mother died in a car accident just after he got back from his season at Lansing in September, 2007.

A native of Mill Creek, Washington (a northern suburb of Seattle), his high school (Jackson) was ranked #2 in the nation in 2006, having gone 27-0 (the number 1 team, Woodlands, Texas, featured none other than Kyle Drabek).

He was drafted by the Jays 14th overall in the 2006 draft at the age of 18 for 1.7 million. To be convinced that he should be signed, not only did assistant GM LaCava scout him in Washington, but JP Ricciardi flew Snider to SkyDome and personally threw batting practice with him to become convinced. 

Baseball America interviewed him while he was playing for Pulaski in the Appalachian rookie league, and Snider had the typical responses, of him being honored to play in the Blue Jays organization, how he wanted to work hard, and all of the typical responses. And he did work hard, batting to an OPS of .979 for Pulaski. That performance earned him the Appalachian League Player of the Year and Rookie Player of the Year honours.

In 2007, he was promoted to the Lansing Lugnuts where he stayed all year and hit .313 / .377 / .505 with 16 home runs, despite injuring his thumb in the middle of May (zapping his power until early August). He hit LHP and RHP equally well (at .311 or above). He dealt with adversity with the thumb injury and slump in June and started to hit really well in July. compared Snider favorably with Jay Bruce (all star outfielder for the Reds), stating this: 
"They will both record their fair share of strike outs, but without sacrificing their batting average that will roam around .300 and their on-base presence, and hit for a lot of power to all fields while handling pitches from whoever is facing them on the mound. They also both clearly show the potential to be major producers for their respective teams in the future"
And like Jay Bruce in 2007 who went through a meteoric rise in the minors, Travel had the same meteoric rise in the minors in 2008. As the #11 Baseball America prospect, he started in Dunedin for 17 games (with JP Arencibia, Cooper) where he played just 17 games before getting called up to New Hampshire (as the youngest player in Fisher Cats history) where he hit .262 / .357 / .461 with 17 home runs over 362 at bats (recording 116Ks), playing with JP Arencibia, Erik Kratz (now catching with the Phillies), and Kyle Phillips. In August, he was promoted to AAA Syracuse where he only managed to hit. 344 in 64 at bats. He was ready for the big leagues. He debuted with the Jays on August 29th and managed to hit .301 / .338 / .466 over 73 at bats. He went to the Arizona Fall league to hone his skills further.
A Seattle Times story written in February, 2008 talks about the prospects mental character in the face of adversity. By all accounts, everyone agreed that he succeeded extremely well in all facets of life, despite adversity. Larry Stone, sports writer for the Seattle Times, stated in early 2008: 
He may, in fact, be the most self-actualized young player I've ever encountered, and it's no accident. Snider has worked as hard on himself as he has on his game.
JP Ricciardi said of him in the same story: 
"As far as the physical attributes, he's going to be a very good hitter. But it's really the mental stuff that separates Travis. He's been through some tough things. You talk about a young kid that gets it — he gets it."
That said, he had a very tough teenage years, where he went through the death of two close grandparents, the death of his coach, the demise of his mother, the pain of parents divorcing, and having to support his mother. He was a big kid (built as a linebacker), and had anger management issues, went to counselling, and poured all of his anger and emotions into baseball.

When is mother died in a sudden car accident just after the 2007 Lugnuts season, he used the Jays employee assistance program and the Jays made sure that he was encompassed in baseball.

By all accounts, this young man knew adversity and succeeded despite it. The Davidi story paints Snider in his early career as being immature and subject to criticism and not being able to deal with Tenace and Gaston. That's a bunch of crap. Snider dealt with adversity quite well. He just needed time to process it at his young age.

What I will say, however, is that Snider was used to success at every level. When he hit the MLB, which is the penultimate destination (nirvana, heaven), he ran into management in Gaston and Tenace who did not treat him with the kid gloves that Ricciardi did. There is no doubt in my mind that Gaston wanted him to succeed. But Snider's head and confidence was so wrapped up in his success at baseball that when he finally met failure, he did not handle it well at all.

Gaston did not understand his mental makeup and treated him poorly. He made this statement in the Davidi article:
The Blue Jays, Gaston explains, "were trying to ease him into it, trying to make sure he’s going to be successful, instead of shoving him out there against tough left-handers. I understand why it’s tough to understand after he hit two home runs, but there are some guys who can take it from their teammates, some guys that can’t. He’s got to be able to take it."
Certainly, Gaston's regime was not rookie-friendly, and Snider didn't take it very well in his own account. He did not like sitting out games. Things did not go well for Snider in 2009. He started off the season quite similar to how Lawrie finished in 2011, hitting the cover off the ball. Through his first 14 games, he hit .310 / .383 / .643 with 8 extra base hits in his first 13 hits. But he slipped after that, and in the stretch of 18 games prior to his demotion back to AAA Veags, he hit .193 / .220 / .211. This coincides well with Snider's recalling of him trying to change his swing in Davidi's story with Tenace's and Gaston's urgings. And frankly, Snider had stiff competition in the outfield. So, with the roster, Gaston went with Bautista / Rios / Wells in the outfield, Overbay at 1st, and Rolen at 3rd, with Lind at DH. This left no room for Snider to play, and he was demoted.

And by Travis' account, he did not take this well. And why would he? All of Snider's failures were things he couldn't control - the deaths and divorce around him. Baseball was perhaps the only one thing he could control. This was really the only time in life where he had a personal failure, and naturally, looking back, he blamed the failure on his relationship with Gaston and Tenace, and probably was upset at Ricciardi too.

And things did not get better for him. By his accounts, he languished in AAA at first but recovered, and he came up to finish the 2009 season hitting .276 / .360 / .483 in the last 26 games of the season, which is major league quality for a left fielder. Then Ricciardi was fired, Gaston had the clubhouse riot, and Dwayne Murphy came on as hitting coach.

By the middle of May, 2010, it looked like Snider was indeed going to be the everyday left fielder, and indeed despite his first 19 game struggle (.125 / .253 / .250) they kept him out there, and he turned a corner indeed, batting .385 / .418 / .769 over his next 14 games. Then he hurt his wrist, and that really sucked both mentally and physically. Snider languished in AAA and AA while he tried to recover. Meanwhile, Fred Lewis was doing really well as a regular outfielder for the Jays, batting (until the end of July) .280 / .342 / .456. With Bautista now playing regularly in rightfield, Gaston needed to find room for Snider to play, and for a while, Snider platooned with Lewis while Edwin played terribly at 3rd base. This got into Snider's head (according to him) but he tried to prevail anyway, and with Lewis' production falling off, Snider won the position in LF and he finished the season well and had a stretch of 12 games at the end of the season where he bat .373 / .396 / .706).

So, my take on Snider is that while he admits the game gets into his head, he manages to turn it around over time. His stats prove that. In every case in the Davidi story where Snider is performing badly, Snider blames it eventually on himself and how he handled situations.

And this is the great, great plus for Snider. He is capable of being a fantastic player if the game in his head is right. And he knows this.

And really, the Jays management has got to do what is best for them, not what is best for a 22 year old. Certainly, management didn't really comprehend that their actions affected Travis' performance as much as they did. And even if they did understand it, it is management's job to coddle a player?

Given Snider's potential, perhaps the answer should be "yes". However, in life, there are going to be challenges. Was Jays management right in playing Fred Lewis over Travis Snider? Absolutely. Lewis was having a great year (hitting .280 at the end of July) in 2010 for the Jays, and so was Jose Bautista. You might fault the Jays for putting Lind out there day after day, but for the money he was being paid and the .932 OPS the year before, why wouldn't you? And Bautista was needing to be repurposed as a right fielder to make way for Edwin's bat. There just wasn't alot of room with Bautista in right, Lind at DH, Overbay at 1st, and Edwin at 3rd.

The team has to do what's right for the team, not what's right for a player. Snider was victim of unfortunate circumstances and as a result, he was bounced around between AAA and the majors. Finally, when Snider did come up, he won the job in LF anyway over a languishing Lewis.

And in 2011, he just did not play well at the big league level. By this time, this was his 4th year in MLB and the Jays were really not responsible for his mental state. Snider uses (in part two of the article) excuses of not having a contract and getting beat out by Thames as excuses, but I think the Jays mentality at this point was that he has to perform to earn a spot on the team. He wasn't.

Finally, in 2012, the Jays left Travis down in AAA, not calling him up until mid-July. And he did well once called up. But he was blindsided once again with a trade to the Pirates, where he could now have a fresh start.

Except he's the same Snider. To August 29, Snider managed to hit about .301 / .385 / .422, but since August 31, Snider his hitting just .111 with no extra base hits. He hurt his hamstring. He's not getting regular play. All of this has gotten into his head, yet again, despite playing for a new club.

At some point, a team has got to look at a player and all of the investment made in him. He was a first round draft pick with great expectations, and he did great up until he was called up to the team's top level. And even in MLB, he has shown greatness. But mentally, he was and is fragile, letting the management actions and other players get to his head which translated to his bat. At some point, a team needs reliability. When the Jays looked at their roster at the end of July, they realized that their chances of getting into the post season with an injured Lawrie, Bautista, Arencibia, starting rotation and bullpen was slim and none. Anthopolous realized that he had an immediate need to shore up the bullpen and he got rid of what he saw was a mental liability in Travis Snider.

For what it's worth (nothing) I wish Travis the best of luck. I think he has the capability to be an all-star, but he's gotta remove himself mentally from his physical game. If he can do that, he will be successful.

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