Monday, 28 January 2013

Being Sort of Polite to Adam Lind

I'd be pretty dumbfounded if I were the only one still bothered by this, or if I were the first person to write about it, but here we go anyway.

I was thinking, for some reason, about the Alex Anthopoulos live-chat from Thursday morning.  I had submitted a few questions without really thinking of how filtered the questions would be, and what he would and would not answer, so I didn't really worry about the phrasing of most of them.  In hindsight, I could have been less aggressive with some of what I asked, which is really confirmed by one of his answers, when he said something like "I can't talk about specific players..."

I don't remember word-for-word what I had submitted, but it was something along the lines of "Adam Lind can't hit major league pitching well enough to justify having his bat in the order everyday (in the middle of the lineup, no less). He has a career .607 OPS against lefty pitching, and he has exactly one season in which he was an average-or-better offensive player.  Typically a player with that offensive skillset can run really fast, or at least make up for their below-average offense with some very solid defensive value at a premium position, but Adam doesn't do run or field well at the easiest defensive position on the field.  Why does he continue to get chance after chance to fail?"

So that's really what we're looking at here.  Yeah, the guy had a really nice season four years ago, and he can occasionally still run in to a belt-high accident fastball.  What have you done for us lately though? What is Adam Lind still doing on this team?  There are obviously multiple people in the front office who believe that there's something there. Is there just something that we're all missing?

Every time that I've asked myself these questions over the last four years, it's been rhetorical.  I didn't need a reason to examine the guy or look deeper to assess his performance.  I didn't really need anything beyond the eye-test to realize that he probably shouldn't be any everyday player.  But I feel as though I've gotten lazy in my hatred of Lind over the last year or so, and I'm just kind of set in my ways.  As such, I will be updating everything I know about him to reflect the 2012 season, removing the preconceived notions I have about why he should be used sparingly, if at all, this season, instead of slotting him in the 5-hole and taking at-bats away from otherwise useful players.  I'm honestly not sure how this is going to turn out, but I'm kind of hoping that it's full of vitriol and disdain.

Lind was rightfully sent down to AAA after the May 16 game, after hitting .186/.273/.314 over the team's first 38 games.  That isn't very good.  He ended the season with a .255/.314/.414 line, which is better, but still isn't very good for a 1B/DH. Still, we need to give credit where it's due; that's a .316 wOBA for the season, and is a pretty nice accomplishment, given his stat-line when he was sent down, and the fact that he only had like 58 games to turn things around.  The OBP aspect is actually an improvement over what we've seen in the two years prior, where he had OBP's under .300.

As for the batting average, and again, I'd be dumbfounded if I were the first to have written about this, if my  baseball-reference's calculations are correct, Lind hit .296/.339/.473 from call-up to end of season. It's only a sample of 60 or so games, and there was a stretch of about a month where he didn't play, thanks to a back issue that apparently won't ever go away, but still.

I assume this is to be expected, but he had a .209 babip pre-demotion, and a .322 babip after.  Surprise.  He regressed towards the mean.  He ended up with a .282 babip on the season, which isn't all that far from his career .293 mark, and is actually almost exactly his expected babip (scroll down to the bottom to find Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus, btw).  So he regressed to being an almost average player.

What's weird is that he walked less and struck out more (on a rate basis) after returning to the bigs, despite swinging at fewer pitches this past season.  I'd actually expect him to walk more this coming season, assuming he can maintain those plate discipline numbers.  The most encouraging thing I can think of here?  His plate discipline numbers from 2012 are really, really similar to his 2009 (i.e. "breakout") season.

Lind handles righties just fine, to the tune of a career .282/.335/.502 line.  That's great.  Lefties are obviously another story-- he had a .202/.250/.303 line vs LHP this past season, and a .220/.264/.343 line vs LHP for his career.   Seems pretty obvious that his plate appearances vs. lefties need to be curtailed.  Except Cito and Farrell pretty much gave him free reign over lefties over the course of Lind's career.  In 2012, 27% of Lind's PA's were against lefties, same in 2011, 23% in 2010, and 27% in 2009.  Gibby has said that Lind will probably play mostly everyday to start the year here too.

Obviously it's sort of easy to exploit an extreme platoon like that, as an opposing manager.  Benches aren't infinite, and at some point, the madness has to stop-- Gibby can't just go to Rajai Davis off the bench every time there's a lefty on the mound, since Davis can only hit lefties, which is also really exploitable.  When the opposing boss brings in a righty to counteract Davis pinch-hitting for Lind, we then have to deal with the possibility of Davis' .278 career wOBA vs. RHP coming in to play.  Davis needs to be shielded from righties just as bad as Lind needs to be shielded from lefties.  Lind is going to face lefty pitching regardless of how terrible he is, because at some point, you have to decide if you want Davis vs. RHP or Lind vs. LHP.  We just need to trust that neither is going to play everyday and that they won't be afraid to use the bench when it's strategically viable.  It's just something that we're going to have to deal with until the trade deadline or something.  Emilio Bonifacio certainly becomes a lot more valuable as a switch-hitter off the bench, especially with Edwin and Bautista being able to fill in at 1B.

But I still come back to the question; What do they see in Lind that keeps them from letting go?  I decided to do some digging.

  • Lind's nadir in 2009 was June 2, where he ended the day with a .287/.363/.485 line.  That's pretty good.  His 2009 in total was very good, with .305/.370/.562 being his final line.
  • In 2010, he hit .286/.359/.484 in April, to start the season.  That's a .362 wOBA, which is just about what Paul Goldschmidt or Albert Pujols did this year (.228/.273/.414 afterward).  His 2009 rightfully kept him in the lineup through 2010.
  • In 2011, from April 26 to July 20 (52 games), Lind batted .327/.378/.599 with 17 HR's.  Rumor has it that he was playing injured for a big part of the second half, but excuses excuses.
  • In 2012, from June 29 through to the end of the season, Lind batted .297/.335/.482 (56 games).
Yes, small samples, and yes arbitrary endpoints, but these aren't just week-long blips-- these are some halfway significant stretches of a couple of months.  I understand that as good as he is in these mentioned streaks, he's equally terrible in the other periods of time in those seasons.  If you're in to arbitrary endpoints and looking at things with a positive light, which I typically am not, there's definitely something there with Lind.  I doubt it's something as simple as not letting him hit against lefties, and I'll be god damned if I can figure out how to fix the guy in any other way.

I used to think that Adam Lind was one of the absolute worst players in baseball.  Just spending the last hour or so looking at some numbers and making this post, I'm no longer entirely convinced that Adam Lind is as terrible at baseball as I once thought.

That's as polite as I can say it.

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