Two Ships Passing In The Night

Nice throw, bro. - Otto Greule Jr

Going into last night's game against the Mariners Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind were tied for 5th among Blue Jays position players in WAR, but where are they going from here?

In what amounts to a lost season there may be some fans that stop watching the games but most fans continue to watch, at least to some extent. There are plenty of reasons to do so. The most basic one is a simple love of baseball. Fans will continue to watch because they love to watch baseball and they might as well watch the team they love. This is the purest reason, but there are others. Personally, when the season is lost I find myself watching the stretch run as an armchair GM. I am watching players to consider who can contribute to the Jays in the years to come and who needs to go. Though some would consider it inadvisable for the Jays to go for another run at contention in 2014, it seems likely that this is exactly what they are going to do. In fact, they are going to do it with a similar core group to the one they have trotted out in 2013. That doesn't mean there won't be some tweaks to the roster though. The last couple of the months of the season are a great time to determine what those tweaks will be and where certain players stand in the grander scheme of things.

Today I am going to examine two players going in different directions. One of them is almost a certainly a part of the Blue Jays future, the other teeters on the brink of the Blue Jays plans in 2014. Both players have an identical WAR at 0.9, an unremarkable number that can be come upon in a variety of ways. In fact, these two guys are pretty much as different as you could imagine. One is a young right handed batter who creates a great deal of value on the bases and in the field and the other is a veteran left handed bat whose lead feet and hands of stone ensure that he needs to hit and hit well to be worth anything. At this point it is probably fairly clear to you that I'm speaking of Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie.(The fact both players were mentioned in the article preview probably helped)

I thought it was interesting that both Lind and Lawrie have the same WAR at this point in the season given the highly different way in which their seasons have been viewed by Jays fans. Most of this is a function of the expectations for these two players entering the year. On the most basic level Brett Lawrie was expected to do well and Adam Lind was expected to do poorly. Another factor is the way in which Lind's successes this season has been this season have been very visible (a .278/.342/.471 line is more than respectable) whereas his failures have been subtle in that he is a poor fielder and base runner. Lawire on the other hand has produced a subpar .233/.293/.429 line but has been excellent in the field (when playing 3rd base) and on the base paths even though he isn't much of a base stealer. There are some fairly legitimate beefs to be had with WAR but it has it's uses and what it tells us is that at this particular juncture Lind and Lawrie have been approximately equally valuable to the Blue Jays. However, the most important part of that sentence is "at this particular juncture". What we are witnessing right now is two players trending in different directions. You might even say we are seeing the restoration of order to the universe as Adam Lind had no business being as good as he was earlier in the year and Brett Lawrie had no business being as bad as he was in April and May. If you were less poetically inclined you might call it regression to the mean. Every time you watch a movie and someone says. "I've got good news and bad news" they are instructed to deliver the bad news first. I'm not motivated to fly in the face of custom so I'll start with Adam Lind.

Back in May I wrote this article about Adam Lind entitled, "Adam Lind is a New Man" regarding his new approach. You probably don't remember it, but I do as it was my first feature article for Bluebirdbanter. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely to stand the test of time. At the time it appeared that Lind had turned the corner with his discipline at the plate. He had been better laying off bad pitches in 2012 than 2011 and better in 2013 than 2012. There appeared to be a trend there but as the season has gone on all improvements in this area have eroded. The following chart shows some of Adam Lind's plate discipline stats by month:

Month

O-Zone Swing %

Swing %

Contact %

Swinging Strike %

April

22.2%

37.3%

84.5%

5.6%

May

24.8%

37.6%

83.1%

6.2%

June

29.4%

45.3%

82.8%

7.8%

July

33.3%

41.8%

71.9%

11.6%

We aren't far enough into August to include it but for what it's worth so far in the month Lind has swung for over 35% of pitches outside of the zone. It appears that his discipline at the plate is breaking down as the season wears on. It seems that what appeared to be a different approach has been thrown by the wayside in favor of Lind's former hacking ways. One problem is the fact that Lind's early season success convinced John Gibbons that Lind should play every day when in fact he should be strictly a platoon option, one that should be removed whenever a matchup with a left hander is forthcoming. It's easy to to see the problem because Lind's results didn't always match his process:

Month

BB%

K%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

April

20.7%

10.3%

.275

.244

.397

.311

May

10.2%

19.3%

.397

.346

.409

.590

June

2.9%

22.9%

.394

.350

.362

.620

July

7.4%

26.3%

.250

.195

.263

.356

By the time we were in June Adam Lind looked like a monster of a hitter but he was doing it by returning to the hitting style that had made him a fairly awful player for the vast majority of the last three years. Gibbons felt like he couldn't afford to leave him out of the lineup even though he was on the brink of a major fall, and his success was built on a BABIP infused house of cards. Everything collapsed in July and things aren't looking good so far in August.

To make a long story less long, I'm not very optimistic regarding the rest of Adam Lind's season. By the end of the year I suspect there may be a fairly serious debate regarding Lind's seven million dollar option for 2014. Ultimately it seems like the Blue Jays should, and probably ultimately will, pick up this option given that the buyout cost is two million dollar. At what is essentially a five million dollar price tag Lind is probably a good deal, so long as he never, ever, ever plays against southpaws. Lind is a very limited player but he can be effective as a DH against right handed starters and in absolutely no other situation. He is the sort of player that does not deserve a place in the Blue Jays long term plans but can fill a role until someone better comes along. Given that the Blue Jays have fairly affordable options on Lind's next three seasons they have the luxury of going year to year with him.

As Lind sputters down the stretch, bringing into question his long term standing on the team, Brett Lawrie is coming on strong to end the year. Once again, I think the change in Lawrie's results can at least partly be traced to his approach. The table below shows his plate discipline stats for April, May and July, the only three months where he has had significant at bats.

Month

O-Zone Swing %

Swing %

Contact %

Swinging Strike %

April

34.9%

45.8%

70.9%

13.2%

May

32%

49.4%

77.4%

11%

July

19.2%

40%

88.4%

4.6%

Since Brett Lawrie returned from the disabled list he has been more selective and made better contact. If we look at his numbers pre and post All Star Break we can see a big difference. To be fair he did play two games before the All Star Break after returning from his injury but the split is close enough to tell the story.

Time Period

BB%

K%

AVG

OBP

SLG

WAR

1st Half

5.6%

23%

.204

.261

.361

0.1

2nd Half

9.9%

12.7%

.306

.366

.587

0.8

It should be noted that those 2nd half numbers may be a small sample size but they have not come cheaply as Lawrie has only had a .294 BABIP during that time. It is clear that Lawrie is neither as good nor as bad as the two lines above, but I tend to be of the opinion he is closer to being an excellent hitter than an absolutely abysmal one. Perhaps he was truly rushed back in April and taking his time to come back later in the year has paid dividends. Whatever the case may be, it seems that Lawrie has figured it out at the dish to some extent recently. There can be no guarantees that he will keep it up but he is a 23 year old with a solid track record at the plate coming into 2013. That alone bodes well for Lawrie's future, even if this season winds up the disaster it has at times looked to be. People tend to be impatient because they remember his dominance in 2011 at such a young age, but Lawrie is still developing. After all, he's younger than either Sean Nolin or Kevin Pillar.

It seems to me that Brett Lawrie's approach and results are on the upswing while Adam Lind's are on the downswing. In a sense this is not surprising given their ages and track records but in May or June this year one could have squinted and seen Lind as a better hitter than Lawrie both in the present and the immediate future. Interestingly, at this point ZIPS and Steamer see the two as very similar hitters down the stretch:

Player

AVG

OBP

SLG

WAR

Brett Lawrie ZIPS

.266

.322

.454

1.0

Adam Lind ZIPS

.268

.324

.457

0.4

Brett Lawrie Steamer

.266

.323

.438

0.8

Adam Lind Steamer

.263

.326

.452

0.3

It's kind of scary how similar the projection systems see these two guys. It's also interesting how much more valuable Lawrie is than Lind even when they hit almost exactly the same. I think there is evidence to suggest that Lawrie will hit better than Lind from here on out, but I understand why these numbers make sense and don't mean to take on the projection systems. Even if they hit the same we are in a situation where Lawrie's total value is surging and Lind's is declining such that by the end of the year it's pretty much inevitable that Lawrie will lead the pair in WAR by a sizable margin. However, in this instant their total production is very similar. It's a strange moment, and probably a fleeting one, but it is worth noting because it probably won't come around again. I'm absolutely positive that neither Lind nor Lawrie will give this moment a second thought or notice it at all; but they ought to wave to each other on the way by as they go their separate ways. Like two ships passing in the night.

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