In yesterday’s 3-2 win over the Red Sox all the Blue Jays runs came courtesy of Travis Snider . Both of his hits, a double and home run, came off Sox starter Tim Wakefield. However, a couple of hits off Wakefield, a knuckleballer, tells us absolutely nothing about Snider’s development as a hitter this season. Just in the same way a hitless day against Wakefield would tell us nothing. 

But Snider is showing plenty of other signs that the 22-year-old is progressing quite nicely into a professional hitter. A quick look at his batting average and on-base percentage won’t show the progress either, as he’s hitting only .232 with a .317 on-base percentage, compared to last year’s .241/.328.

Where then are the signs coming from? To find them we’ll have to travel a little farther down his stats page on FanGraphs .

Right off the bat the only part of his triple-slash line that has increased this year compared to ’09 is his slugging percentage. A rise in slugging coupled with a slight decline in batting average is a clear indicator that Snider has upped his power output. Indeed, his ISO has risen to .223, up from .178 a season ago, and it’s better than his mark from 2008 as well. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as Travis showed above average power in the minors but it’s good to see it showing up in the show.

Even more promising than that, his plate discipline is coming along too. After striking out in 31.5 percent of his at-bats in ’08, that number increased to 32.4 percent last year. This year, though, we’ve seen Snider push it in the other direction, as he currently has just a 25-percent strikeout rate. While unprecedented in the majors he did have a strikeout rate around 26 percent in 60 games at the Triple-A level.

His walk rate has also increased slightly this season, up to 11.1 percent of his plate appearances. Not as drastic as his jump from 6.3 percent in ’08 to 10.5 percent in ’09, but clearly showing no signs of regression. His establishing of an above-average walk rate at such a young age is an excellent development and a sustainable skill moving forward.

Moving further down his FanGraphs’s page we get a better picture of how Snider is walking more and striking out less. First off, Snider is swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone than seasons past. He’s offered at 23.8 percent of pitches outside the zone, down from 33.3 and 27.1 in ’08 and ’09. He’s begun to swing at more pitches inside the zone at the same time, up to 74.5 percent from last year’s 71.8, while swinging less overall.

And when he does decide to bring the bat around he is making more contact as a whole, whether it be out of or inside the strike zone. His contact rate in 2010 has increased 3.6 percent from last season to 74.9 percent. His outside contact is up 5.6 percent to 52.6 and his inside swing percentage has climbed to 83.6 percent over 2009’s 81.7.

This is a big step for Snider, as he is giving every indication of improved knowledge of the strike zone. At the same time, his increase in contact both in and out of the zone shows us he is learning more about himself in terms of what he can hit and what he needs to layoff. He isn’t just being more patient for the sake of being more patient, which would actually be a step in the wrong direction.

Perhaps quickly becoming the most overused excuse for struggling hitters is pointing out a player’s BABIP and how it almost has to improve from where it currently stands. Snider’s BABIP currently sits at .266, and yes here it comes, it’s is almost certain to increase back closer to his career mark of .317.

But wait, not just because it has to, Snider has never, at any level of his career, had a BABIP below .316. Even in 2008 at Double-A when he hit .262 his BABIP was still .333.

There’s already evidence of this, after posting a BABIP of just .157 in April, his mark so far for May is .464. And the hits are coming too, he’s collected 15 in 41 at-bats in May after an ugly 11 hits in 71 at-bats last month.  

The hardest part about looking over Snider’s numbers it that he is so young we don’t know if this season’s small sample size is indicative of a new level of performance or if there will be regression to his past major league performance. And of course his past major league experience is just 356 plate appearances anyways so we can’t draw much conclusion from that either.

But this is a player who performed extremely well in the minors at a young age for every level he was at. Couple his minor league track record with his steady progression as a hitter in the show and you’ve got plenty of reasons to suspect the improvements will continue.

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