I had originally planned to write an angry rant about Adam Lind, and how ridiculous it seems, in a vacuum, for the team to go out and make so many improvements but commit to Lind as an everyday, heart-of-the-order player.
But then two things happened:
1. I remembered that baseball doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the Jays face things like roster and budget constraints. That is, it’s not as easy as saying "don’t play Lind, gahhh!" when the Jays are likely tapped out in budgetary terms and don’t have a clear means of improving the situation.
2. Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs knocked this article out of the park and said a lot of what I wanted to say.
Basically, Klaassen said that yes, Lind is terrible against lefties, perhaps irredeemably so, but he’s still a near-average hitter against righties. When you’re looking at a $5M price tag, that sucks, but it also makes a lot more sense to get at least that much out of the investment rather than cut bait entirely.
So yes, we’re ALL in agreement (I hope) that, at most, Lind should be the left-handed hitting part of a platoon. So, since Matt laid out a strong case for it, let’s take a look at two possible ways to work around Lind’s shortcomings against lefties.
1. Right-handed platoon-mate options.
The Jays could use one of the right-handed bats in house to spell Lind when a lefty is on the mound. I know some would like to see Anthony Gose get some time at Lind’s expense, but Gose is also a lefty who struggles to hit lefties, so his path to playing time doesn’t run through Lind. For this same reason, you also lose the option of catching Thole and letting Arencibia DH against lefties (although Arencibia’s bat doesn’t play at DH, anyway).
Instead, the Jays have the following bench bats currently penciled in on the bench:
Mark DeRosa – DeRosa is capable of spelling multiple positions, making him a nice candidate to fill in every so often. He also hit lefties far better than righties last year and has done so for his career. Unfortunately, "hits them better" in this case is low hanging fruit, since DeRosa has been terrible against righties for some time and is merely mediocre against lefties at this point.
Maicer Izturis/Emilio Bonifcaio – whichever of these gents doesn’t play at second in a particular game could conceivably spell another position. Both are switch hitters who hit righties far better than lefties last year, which could be an issue here. With that said, in 2011, both hit better against lefties, and for their careers they both have OPS+ of roughly 90 against left-handed pitchers. Neither bat can play at DH, but it’s a "sometimes" option to get Lind out of the line-up and spell a regular anywhere in the field.
Rajai Davis – Raj has always profiled nicely as a fourth outfielder but not so much as an everyday player. It’s why he’s only crossed 500 plate appearances once and why the Jays were aggressive in upgrading the left field spot this winter. Even still, Davis is a near-average defender and adds value on the basepaths, stealing a base every three games as a Jay. He also hit lefties far better than righties last year, a split that has existed for his entire career. This option is probably the most likely given the current roster construction – Davis would play right field, allowing Bautista to DH every so often for a rest.
Moises Sierra – Sierra is a bit more of a longshot as he doesn’t currently pencil in on the 25-man roster. Sierra could definitely use more Triple-A seasoning, but he did hit lefties very well in his 60 plate appearances against them last season.
Free Agents - It's slim pickings for right-handed OF/DH/1B types. Carlos Lee, anyone? He is about the only righty that fits the description, and he hit lefties poorly last year but has historically hit them well. He also made $18.5M last year and seems unlikely to sign on as a caddy.
2. Lind improves against lefties.
If this seems pretty damn unlikely, that’s because it is.
Adam Lind, Career v. LHP – 755 PA, 18HR, .220/.264/.343, 59 wRC+, .267 wOBA, 24.9 K%, 5.2 BB%
Adam Lind, Career v. RHP – 2132 PA, 99HR, .282/.335/.502, 120 wRC+, .358 wOBA, 17.4 K%, 7.3 BB%
So it’s not just the power or anything like that. Lind is far worse across the board against lefties. His batted ball profile isn’t any different, but his BABIP is higher against righties (.301 to .271). This doesn’t necessarily point to bad luck, as players can sustain poor BABIPs, even platoon-specific ones, although 755 plate appearances may not be enough for it to stabilize.
When I say stabilization, I’m referring to that link to PC’s awesome Fangraphs work that determined when hitter stats begin to stabilize, or, in easier terms, at what point we can start to trust them.
If we look at Lind’s sample versus lefties, we see that yes, that amount of playing time is enough to know definitively that he can’t hit lefties, if it were all one big sample. However, these stabilization rates are for within-season, and it’s tough to know if the smaller samples in each season make it difficult to judge his aptitude for hitting lefties.
Even with those caveats, though, it’s difficult to see that gigantic gap between lefties and righties as being some sort of odd large-sample anomaly. Even in his excellent 2009 season, Lind was only average against lefties, perhaps marking his absolute upside against them. And that sure doesn’t seem likely to repeat, given that he had a wRC+ of 48 (52% worse than average) in 96 plate appearances against them last year.
The fact that the team has committed to playing him full-time seems bizarre given this evidence. It seems wildly unlikely that he’ll ever even be decent against lefties, so sacrificing, say, 150 plate appearances throughout the season to "find out for sure" seems like a terrible idea for a team on the brink of a playoff race.
In fact, if we use some (very) rough estimates, with Lind’s wRC+ of 60 (his career mark, bumped up a bit to be friendly) and Davis’ 105 (his career mark, bumped down a bit to be friendly to Lind), that difference over 150 plate appearances is the difference between having 2012 Nelson Cruz and someone worse than 2012 Jemile Weeks for 30 games or so. That’s pretty significant, and in a playoff race that may come down to a single game, every fraction of a win counts (just ask the Yankees and Curtis Granderson).
So no, the Jays shouldn’t give Lind any further run against lefties. Let the handful of bench guys get their "mandated swings to stay fresh and happy" at the expense of Lind against lefties, since they all hit them better than Lind does. It’s still not going to make the Jays dangerous at the DH spot, but it could at least help to make them average, which feels like a big upgrade on Lind right now.