Travis Jankowski’s Lousy Year Just Got Worse

Credit: AP Photo

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The signing of veteran left-handed hitter Nick Martini has left Travis Jankowski on the outside looking in for playing time.

Early in spring training, Travis Jankowski broke his left wrist, and the healing time stretched far longer than expected. On the plus side, he could spend much more time with wife Lindsey and toddler Bentley, who was born last September on a day his father got three hits in four at-bats.

After the injury, Jankowski promptly had surgery, but six, then eight, then 10, then 12 weeks after the surgery, the bone had not healed. During that time, the new dad couldn’t even pick up his baby who had turned into a toddler. On the plus side, he couldn’t change a diaper either.

Thus the Padres opened the season without the services of an outfielder who plays all three positions capably, bats left-handed, and steals bases (including home). On August 6 the Padres finally brought Jankowski up from El Paso only to send him back down five days later. Then on September 1st, Jankowski (who has been in the Padres organization since he was drafted in 2012 in the first round as the 44thpick), rejoined the team as rosters expanded.

That good news for Jankowski, however, has been tempered by the fact that the front office has found the new flavor of the minute — Nick Martini. Martini’s utility is limited to playing left field and pinch-hitting, but he does get on base. It’s no secret that strike-zone discipline has been a perennial weakness for the Padres. This year the team ranks 24thin on-base percentage at .309.

Martini, initially drafted by the Cardinals 2011 but never called up, landed with the Oakland A’s in 2018. The 29-year-old batted .296 in 55 games, but the A’s (78-58, second place American League West, and in the hunt for a Wild Card berth) signed Robbie Grossman to fill the same role.

Martini became expendable, was designated for assignment, and the Padres snagged him. The team cited the need for a left-handed bat, apparently forgetting that Jankowski bats from the left side, while also ignoring the logjam in the outfield.

In a total of 63 games, Martini does have a higher on-base percentage at .386 than Jankowski’s .318.  Martini’s BB rate of 11.0% and SO 19.8 represents an improvement over Jankowski’s stats of 9.6%, 23.7% respectively — but in 251 fewer games. Neither player has much in the way of power, but that’s hardly a significant need for this team.

Credit: USA Today Sports

When Manuel Margot needs a rest, Jankowski (5.7 UZR, 5.8 UZR/150) fills that need far better than Wil Myers (-5.3 UZR, -10.6 UZR/150). His speed factors in both his baserunning and outfield defense. Jankowski ranked in the top 10 in stolen bases in 2016 with 30 (8th) and 2018 with 24 (7th), fifth in Total Zone Runs as a center fielder in 2016, and fourth in Range Factor/9inn as an outfielder 2016 in the National League at 2.52 according to Baseball-Reference.

Furthermore, at this juncture, the Padres would benefit from playing Myers in left (his strongest position), in an attempt to increase his value on the trade market (which will be severely limited by a contract which will explode next year). The same could be said for giving Jankowski semi-regular playing time. Signing Martini has indicated the Padres have little regard for Jankowski, and his skill set could undoubtedly attract interest from other teams needing a fourth or even fifth outfielder with speed.

The speedy outfielder, nicknamed Freddy thanks to his interest in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a child, has been down this road before. He broke his foot early in the 2017 season, but Jose Pirela blocked his return. At the time, manager Andy Green admitted to Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune that “Travis is a superior defender to just about everyone in the game of baseball—not just the few guys here.”

Travis Jankowski makes the strongest case for himself. As he told Sanders in June, he can “provide that energy, that spark, that threat to steal a base, and make the pitchers worry more and then go out and track down everything in the outfield. If there’s a ball in the outfield, I’m not letting it hit the ground.”

Freddy demonstrated that value when he finally got to the plate in the ninth inning of the third game against the Giants and promptly singled. He took off and scored easily from first on a single by Manny Machado in the Padres’ 8-4 victory. His opportunities are sadly few and far between.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.
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Gary Klimas
Gary Klimas
3 years ago

Travis Jankowski has always brought more to the table than Margot. And now Nick Martini gets to play in front of Travis too? We’ve seen this all before! And if you haven’t, then you’re not paying attention to the Padres and all of Preller’s moves. Travis is NOT “Preller’s pet.” I’m so tired of Preller, what he does, what he says, his deals (or lack off deals) and just the way he runs our favorite team into the ground. Let me ask a simple question – would any of us want to work FOR the man? No way. How about… Read more »

Tanned Tom
Tanned Tom
3 years ago

Jankowski is actually a very valuable player, if used correctly. He is great in the field, great on the basepaths, and pretty good against right handed pitching. Over the last 3 years (2015-2018) he’s batted .268, with a .350 OBP against righties. Against lefties he’s hopeless. So platoon him. That .350 on base percentage has got to be tops on the team. Seems pretty obvious that he’s your leadoff hitter against righties, with Tatis hitting 2nd, and Machado 3rd. But don’t expect Preller and Green to see that, I wouldn’t trust them to figure out how to put mustard on… Read more »

Kevin Peterson
Kevin Peterson
3 years ago

Jankowski has no power and his batting average sucks. Today, every hitter except the pitcher must be able to hit, drive in runs, and hit home runs- if that team plans on contending. The players who must move on are: Jankowski, G. Garcia, Hedges, Myers, and some of our bullpen pitchers. We just can’t have pitchers throwing fastballs over the center of the plate and at belt buckle height. Finally, please, stop swinging at balls out of the strike zone and I am sick to death for all these 0-2 counts.

Sandi Mccoy
Sandi Mccoy
3 years ago

I just want to say I missed Jankowski while he was gone, I’m really really excited he is back ..hopefully to stay, Travis I will always be your fan!

Peter Kennedy
Peter Kennedy
3 years ago

The key to your article is “but in 251 fewer games.” Jankowski has had more than a year’s worth of chance. He is what he is. Now it is Martini’s chance.

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