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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #50 Lyle Overbay

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Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images

Lyle Stefan Overbay | 1B | 2006 - 2011

Lyle Overbay was born on January 28, 1977, in Centralia, Washington (just south of Seattle). The Diamondbacks drafted him in the 18th round of the 1999 Amateur Draft, out of the University of Nevada, Reno. Lyle was the best of the four players that made the majors out of that round that year.

Lyle made the majors for a couple of games in 2001 and 10 in 2002. In 2003 he made the team out of spring training. Before the season, Baseball America listed him as the 65th best prospect in baseball, by Baseball America, in the off-season. He didn’t do great and was sent back to the minors after playing in 86 games. In December of 2003, the Diamondback send Lyle to the Brewers as part of a 10 player trade. Going to the Diamondbacks, the big-name was slugger Richie Sexton, but Sexton only played 21 games for them in an injury-filled 2004.

Overbay played two seasons for the Brewers before being traded to the Jays with Ty Taubenheim for Dave Bush, Gabe Gross, and Zach Jackson. Bush won 46 games (while losing 53) over 5 seasons, Gross played a bit, hitting .251/.357/.440 in parts of 3 seasons, and Jackson pitched 42 innings for the Brewers. So the trade could be counted as slightly to the winning side for J.P. Ricciardi. Considering Eric Hinske played first for us in 2005, Lyle was an improvement.

The trade was the subject of the second post ever on Bluebird Banter. Marc Normandin liked the deal:

He’s a great defensive first basemen, one of the best in the league. He hits well for a first basemen, although he lacks home run power. He makes up for it with doubles, though, and his plate patience is good. Acquiring Overbay most likely means that Shea Hillenbrand or Eric Hinske is on their way out of Toronto. The good news? The Jays may actually get a useful part in exchange for one of them, which would be a plus.

Lyle had a pretty good first season for us. He hit .312/.372/.508 with 22 home runs and 92 RBI in 157 games in 2006. He set his career-high for home runs, RBI, batting average and finished 4th in the AL in doubles with 46.

Fangraphs didn’t like his defense, crediting him with a -5.5 UZR/150 at first base. Defensive ratings at first base are not exactly a perfect science, but Lyle has worked with Brian Butterfield, to become an excellent defensive player.

After the season, J.P. signed Lyle to a 4-year, $24 million contract. The contract didn’t help make him a favorite with Jays fans. mark w had mixed feelings about the signing, at the time, in his BBB post about it:

My views are on this signing are rather mixed. At first glance, it appears to be a thrifty signing, as the Blue Jays lock up a somewhat gifted hitter at a relatively cheap price. On the other hand, however, couldn’t the Blue Jays have waited another season, thus hedging their bets? I can’t imagine that Overbay’s value will skyrocket at this point of his career, especially considering he’s a likely candidate to “age quickly” — at least based on the career trends of statistically similar players from the past. In the end, I don’t think this contract will come back to bite them, if only because of its low cost to the organization. And Overbay appears to be a safe bet for at least the next 2-3 years.

Did he ‘age quickly’? Lyle played in the MLB until age 37, but his last season with bWAR above 1.0 was when he was 33.

2007 wasn’t a good year for Lyle. He missed more than a month with a broken hand after being hit by a John Danks pitch on June 3. He was hitting .256/.332/.464 when he was injured, but finished the season .240/.315/.391 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. It’s pretty hard to hit the ball when your hand is hurting. He did manage to hit 30 doubles. Lyle had a big reverse split, that year, having a .794 OPS vs. LHP but just .676 against RHP.

Lyle bounced back a bit in 2008, hitting .270/.358/.419 with 15 homers, 32 doubles, and 69 RBI in 158 games. He set a team record for getting on base 12 straight times at the end of May. Unfortunately, Lyle couldn’t hit lefties at all, batting just .215/.385/.255 against them. It was the start of an alarming trend. Before 2008, he could hit lefties, at least not well enough he didn’t need to be platooned. After he couldn’t.

Overbay had a pretty good 2009, hitting .265/.372/.466 with 16 home runs (including his first walk-off homer against the A’s in April), 35 doubles, and 64 RBI in 132 games. Fangraphs credited him with a 2.4 WAR, the best in his time with the Jays. They liked his fielding much better than back in 2006. He hit just .190/.256/.278 against left-handers (his platoon partner was Kevin Millar, who didn’t hit lefties all that much better that year).

2010 was Lyle’s last year with the Jays, and it wasn’t good. He hit .243/.329/.433, with 20 home runs (the second most, in a season, in his career), 37 doubles (his 7th consecutive season with 30 doubles), and 67 RBI. He played in 154 games, Cito wouldn’t platoon him as he was a free agent after the season. I think a manager’s loyalty should be to his team, not to a player, but Cito always was different. On defense, he led the AL first basemen in double plays (150) and assists (101). Lyle had the 1000th of his career hit at the end of June.

After the season, he signed with the Pirates as a free agent, and was released by them in August, then signed with the Diamondbacks 10 days later. From the Diamondbacks he went to the Braves, Yankees and Brewers, where he finished his career in 2014.

As a Jay, he hit .268/.350/.446 with 83 home runs, in 723 games over 5 seasons.

Career, in 14 years, he hit .266/.347/.429 with 151 home runs in 1587 games.

Lyle was a terrific defensive first baseman, but his bat wasn’t what you’d like to have from the position. He was, likely, the best defensive first baseman the Jays have ever had there. The question is, ‘how much do you value defense at first?’. In 2010, I asked Brian Butterfield how important Lyle’s defense was in making the other infielders look good? He said:

I think that it’s off the charts how important he is. Just talking to other infielders around the league throughout the years, they talk about the importance of that guy who can stretch and pick the ball and adjust on the bag to handle errant throws. They give those infielders a great deal of confidence just to catch it and let it fly, but if there is a guy over there that is a little stiff and doesn’t have range with the glove, doesn’t pick balls very well, or move around the bag very well, infielders get tentative on their throws. Just his ability alone allows the infielders to turn it loose, and he’s just, I’m biased, but I think he’s absolutely the best in the game at picking throws. He’s absolutely the best at throwing. I don’t think there is anyone in baseball that can match up with him, throwing wise. And to me, one of the things that separates the real solid first basemen from the great ones is their ability to throw and throw fearlessly to get a big lead out, late in the game. So he brings an awful lot, and it’s due to his hard work. I mean he has worked his ass off to become a well above average first baseman. He really has. It is a testament to him.

I always liked Lyle, but I’d have liked him better if the Jays would have found a platoon partner for him. I wonder how much different his offensive numbers would have been if it wasn’t for the broken hand in 2007. Obviously that season would have been much different, but I wonder if it caused if it caused him issues past that season.

Lyle seems to have always been well-liked by his teammates and coaches. He seemed like a good guy. I thought he got more abuse from the fans than deserved, but then that’s the life of a baseball player.

Lyle is married and has six kids.

Lyle Overbay’s place among Jays batting leaders:

Batting Average (>1500 PA): 24nd, .268

On Base % (>1500 PA): 16th, .350

Slugging (>1500 PA): 20th, .446

Games played: 26th, 723

Runs Scored: 29th, 337

Hits: 26th, 672

Doubles: 15th, 180

Home runs: 22th, 83

RBI: 24th, 336

Walks: 15th, 317