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When We Two Parted: Will Aaron Hill and/or Adam Lind Bounce Back in 2011? (Lind Edition)

Hi everyone - when we last spoke, we took a long look at Aaron Hill's 2010 and what we might expect from everyone's favourite slugging second baseman in 2011.  As promised, we're now back to look at his compatriot, Adam Lind

Adam Lind broke out in a big when in 2009 when given a chance to play everyday.  The former Jays top prospect had put up gaudy numbers in the minors before then, and impressed mightily in his first cup of coffee in 2006 at the callow age of 22, but bounced back and forth in AAAA purgatory for most of 2007 and 2008 until Cito Gaston (truly playing against type) insisted that Lind be recalled from AAA Syracuse and made a point of inserting him in the lineup every day (to which Lind responded quite well).  Gaston made Lind a sort of project, and Lind rewarded Cito many times over in 2009 with outstanding production, hitting .305/.370/.562 with 35 home runs, 46 doubles (propelled by a sweet line drive swing to the tune of a 20.2% LD rate) , a healthy 9% walk rate and a comparatively quite low 18.7% strikeout rate.  Things were really looking up for the Indiana native, and the Jays rewarded him with a 4 year contract in which Lind was guaranteed $18 million through his arbitration years with affordable club options over Lind's first three free agent seasons ($7 million, $7.5m, and $8m respectively, to keep him in the fold through 2016).  Because Lind was just 25 in 2009 and had just put up a 3.5 WAR season, the deal looked like an absolute steal.  Unlike his teammate Aaron Hill, who was always doomed to regress from the power heights he reached in 2009, Lind's success in 2009 looked perfectly sustainable. 

Lind's 2010, however, did not go as planned.  He was made the everyday DH -- in 2009 he DHed quite a lot as well, but also played about one of every three games in left field, whereas in 2010 Lind played very few games in the field other than the occassional start at first at the end of the season.  Adam started the season quite well, hitting .286/.359/.484 with 10 extra-base hits and an 11% walk rate in April.  But things really unraveled after that, and May (.532 OPS) and June (.450 OPS) were absolute horrors.  Lind did turn things around after the break with a relatively healthy July, August, and September (.807 OPS in the second half), but if you look deeper even that was worrying.   It was driven by a home run spike   - Lind hit 14 in July, August, and September.  Lind's on-base numbers even after the break (.309 OBP) were very poor.  On the positive side, his swing did begin to show some flashes of its old self, with 17 doubles in August and September.  On the whole, it was a very poor season for Adam - his final numbers .237/.287/.425 - were more in line with a part time catcher with some pop than an everyday DH. 

Lind's horrid May and June were undoubtedly driven by BABIP fluctuation - he hit a ludicrous .181 and .213, respectively, on balls in play over those two months, compared to his career .303 mark.  Unlike Hill, Lind's line-drive numbers stayed relatively healthy in 2010 (18.7%) so his .277 BABIP, dragged down by May and June (his other months were all over .300, BABIP-wise) means he likely saw some bad luck on balls in play.  

However, bad luck on balls in play doesn't begin to tell the story of Lind's problems in 2010, which begin and end with two things - his utter inability to touch left-handed pitching, and an overall failure in approach. In 2009, Lind was a relatively selective hitter, swinging at 24.7% of pitches outside the strike zone (slightly less than league average) and making contact with 70.5% of those pitches.  Lind's contact and swinging strike rates were all better than league average, and pitchers responded by throwing him a healthy 48% of pitches in the strike zone, even in a season in which Lind was an absolute hitting machine. 

2010 was a whole different story - Lind flailed away at almost 35% of pitches outside the strike zone, far too many for a productive hitter.  His swinging strike and contact percentages were both below league average, and as a result, he saw comparatively fewer pitches in the strike zone (44%).  Lind was a monster on fastballs (19.3 wFB), curve balls (7.9wCB), and changeups (7.0 wCH) in 2009, and quite good on sliders.  2010 saw his ability to hit all of those pitches sink to average or below.  As a result, Lind's walk percentage dropped significantly (8.9% to 6.2%), while he struckout a lot more often (35.3% K rate), never a good combination. 

 We've talked a bit about Lind's issues with lefties in 2010, and it's hard to make too much of them.  Lind actually hit a respectable .275/.327/.502 against righthanded pitching, but against lefties he was completely flailing (.117/.159/.182, granted with a .167 BABIP).  Moreover, Lind saw significant plate appearances against lefties (145) that his overall numbers were ruined by his performance against southpaws.  That was disappointing because while there had been a bit of  a lingering question as to whether Lind would hit lefties in the majors, he appeared to quiet those doubts with a solid .780 OPS against them in 2009 (though that was partially aided by a .340 BABIP). 

The source of Lind's struggles against lefties in 2010 was quite simple - his approach against them was just awful.  Lind's walk (7.1%) and strikeout (21%) rates against righties in 2010 wasn't too bad, but against lefties he walked just 3.4% of the time while striking out a whopping 38% of the time.  As a result, Lind was actually a well-above average hitter against righties 124 weighted runs created adjusted for league/park (wRC+) and .356 weighted on-base average (wOBA), while against lefties he was off-the-charts bad (-12 wRC+, .156 wOBA).  He also lost almost all ability to drive the ball (12.8% LD%, 5.7% HR/FB). 

When Lind did connect, 2009 and 2010 were different in another significant way.  Lind's 2009 Home Run chart is a thing of beauty - he was equally proficient at hitting it out to centre, and even opposite field, as he was to hitting them to right field.  His doubles and singles were all similarly spread out.  Lind wasn't nearly as extreme a pull hitter as we saw Aaron Hill was in 2010 (he still hit a fair number of center field shots and opposite field homers) but he did get into the tendency of pulling many more ground balls to the left side than he had done in the past, and he wasn't the pure to-all-fields hitter he was in 2009. 

Unlike his teammate Hill, who managed a 1.1 WAR season in a substantially worse offensive year than Lind had, Lind's value is all on the offensive side of the ball and therefore he simply has to hit.  The Jays seem to think that some of Lind's struggles stem from being a young player stuck in the DH spot, so they look inclined to move Lind to first base if they are satisfied he can handle the position.  Unfortunately, we didn't get the look at him we could have had down the stretch in 2010, but he has been doing some extra work at first base over the winter and he played the position in college.  I don't see any reason to think he can't be an average defensive first baseman in 2011. 

Looking at Lind's 2011 projections, Bill James has Lind at .281/.338/.497 with 26 home runs and 39 doubles and triples, while ZIPS is more pessimistic at .269/.321/.471 with 25 home runs and 39 doubles and triples.   

The Jays have a choice to make.  Is Lind the all-around pure hitter he looked like in 2009 and was 2010 just an aberration against lefties?  145 plate appearances shouldn't define a player's career role, should it?  Or was 2009 the aberration and is Lind simply a solid lefthanded 1B/DH platoon partner who is overexposed seeing lefthanded pitching regularly?    Lind would likely be quite good in that role, and his contract wouldn't be a burden at all at $5 million over the next three seasons, but it definitely isn't what the Jays had in mind for Lind after such an extraordinary 2009.  My guess is that the Jays will give Lind a chance to prove that he's an everyday player, at least until the all-star break or so, by keeping him in the lineup most every day.  They'll hope 2010 was an aberration and that playing the field more helps Lind's hitting (although his career offensive numbers while DHing aren't any worse than those when playing the field).  I'd support that approach.  What say you all?