Evolution Of Travis Snider Starting To Yield Results For Pittsburgh Pirates

Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Snider is getting close to finally shaking that nagging ‘bust’ label, even if he isn’t quite there yet.

The quest hasn’t been easy for the 25-year-old former top prospect, though he’s certainly in the right place for it. When the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Snider from the Toronto Blue Jays in the middle of 2012, they knew they were getting a change-of-scenery project with big impact talents; and a project it was, as the outfielder’s bungled development had been at a standstill when he’d arrived.

From giving him a full-time role, to fundamentally altering his approach to the plate, the Pirates have been doing a whole lot of tweaking to what Snider had been accustomed to.

Let’s begin with some numbers: 1.27, 1.13, 2.55, 2.60. Those two natural pairs express very clearly the most significant change that Snider has made to his game since donning a Pirates uniform. The sequence is his GB/FB ratio from 2011 on to 2013, with the big jump in the middle (both numbers coming in 2012) representing the move from Toronto to Pittsburgh.

Snider had been a guy who’d simply struck out far too much (35 percent with Toronto in 2012, 12.7 percent swinging strike rate), and one of the ways he’d gone about fixing it was to pound the ball into the ground and focus on contact.

Sure enough, his contact rate jumped from 76.7 percent to 79.9 with the trade in 2012, and his strikeouts dipped dramatically to 23.4 percent.

The downside of that, though, was that the approach totally sapped the prodigal power that Snider had, as he slugged just .328 through his final 145 PA with the Pirates with just one homer and five doubles in 2012. That looked to be a continuing trend as the lefty posted a .695 OPS through 47 at-bats in Spring Training, but as it turns out, it was simply another step in the process to his new-found ground ball approach.

Here’s what we know now: through 31 PA in 13 games this season (a fairly tiny example), Snider is hitting more ground balls than ever. That said, he’s also putting contact with pitches in the zone at a higher rate than ever (91.9 percent vs. 83.9 percent over career), and this increased contact rate there is not only leading to a career-low in swinging strikes (7.5 percent),  but is also reflected in his career-high .381 BABIP.

To put it simply, the more Snider is putting balls into play, the more they’re turning into hits.

They’re not just all weak singles either, as he already has three doubles on the season, good for a .407 slugging percentage. Coupled with the fact that his strikeout rate is down to a career-low 19.4 percent and that he’s drawing walks at a 12.9 percent rate and well … just who is this guy anyway, and what has he done with Travis Snider?

No, the home runs haven’t come yet, and to be honest, this approach will severely limit what was Snider’s 30-homer potential.

On the other hand, this is a (gasp) more well-rounded hitting profile than he’s shown throughout his career, and at just 25, there’s definitely time for him to grow into this archetype for the Pirates. They might only end up getting 10-15 homers from him in 2013, but that’s something they could be able to live with as long as the hits and doubles keep coming.

And you know, there’s a .296/.387/.407 triple-slash right now that says he can be plenty successful by staying grounded yet, long balls or not.

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