Blurred Expectations Unavoidable for Adam Lind

After an apparent breakout season in 2009, Adam Lind regressed somewhat drastically trying to follow it up in 2010. The idea of Lind being able to play left field was all but completely abandoned in 2010 and he served as the team’s primary DH for much of the season. That was a move that couldn’t be argued against heading into 2010 because his defense was well below average and he looked to have a good enough bat to bring solid value from a DH role.

That however, is not what happened last season as Lind went from being a 3.5 WAR player in 2009 to a -.3 WAR player in 2010. His health had nothing to with the drop in production either, Lind played in 150 games last year after playing in 151 in 2009. The drop came entirely from his bat as his batting runs above average fell by 40 runs, from 35.9 to -5.9. Moving almost exclusively to DH actually helped his fWAR in 2010. His fielding and positional adjustment cost him 22.4 runs in 2009 but only 17.2 runs last year.

It was a rough going at the dish in almost every way for Lind last year. He did manage to hit 23 homers and bang out 32 doubles. That helped him to a .188 isolated power, easily clearing the league average .145 ISO. The power numbers certainly weren’t poor, especially when compared to the .162 and .156 isolated power marks he had in half seasons back in 2007 and 2008. But as was the theme for 2010, they pailed in comparison to his .257 isolated power and 81 combined doubles and homers in 2009.

In hindsight, Lind’s 2009 .305 batting average looks like somewhat of a fluke. Where his power is a less of a question, Lind probably isn’t likely to have all that many seasons in which he hits .300 or better. But after 2009 Lind had a half season in which he hit .238 in 2007 but then followed it with a half season of hitting .282 and then the .305 mark from 2009. At that point it would’ve seemed safe to think he could be a .270-.290 hitter through his prime years. He then promptly hit .237 in 2010 and now we don’t know what to expect do we?

Batting average isn’t the end all be all of offensive production and the fact his power shined in an off year is comforting when looking at his batting average. The only issue with Lind’s fluctuating batting averages is that he doesn’t do a particularly good job with drawing walks, the only way(outside of getting beaned 25-30 times a season) of keeping an on-base percentage up with a low batting average. After walking in just 5.5 percent of his plate appearances in his first 676 trips to the plate before 2009, Lind drew a walk in 8.9 percent of his plate appearances in ’09. That too dropped in 2010, back down below the league average to 6.2 percent.

Strikeouts were never a major concern for Lind through 2009. After striking out in 22.4 percent of his at-bats in 2007, he went down on strikes in a below average 18.5 percent of his at-bats in 2008-09. Not much of a shock at this point, but that headed in the wrong direction last year too, as he struckout in 25.3 percent of his at-bats. There wasn’t any salvation to be found in his swinging strike rate either, after two seasons of swinging and missing about 7.5 percent of the time he jumped up to 10.7 percent in 2010, safely on the wrong side of the league’s 8.5 percent average.

The plate discipline is discouraging, again because it’s clear he has power and a better walk rate would lessen the concern over his batting average even more. The best indicator of what happened seems to lie in his swing rate. The table below shows his swing rate, swinging strike rate, as well as his walk and strikeout rates from the last four seasons. As you’ll see, more good things tend to happen for Lind when he’s able to swing less often.

Swing Rate Swinging K Rate K% BB%
2007 50.1 10.8 22.4 5.1
2008 49.8 7.8 18.1 4.6
2009 43.8 7.2 18.7 8.9
2010 50.0 10.7 25.3 6.2

Lind has exactly one season with an above average walk rate and one season when he swung at less than the league average amount of pitches. That season was 2009 for both stats. Then in 2010 Lind suffered from a self induced one-two punch of swinging more often like he did previous to 2009 and missing on those swings more than ever. It’s no surprise then to see his walk and strikeout rates both suffer accordingly.

Also, looking back at 2007 we see the other time that he had a swinging strike rate above 10 percent and the matching worse than average strikeout rate. That is no coincidence. Swinging less doesn’t guarantee more walks because of called strikes, but it would seem to be the case for Lind. He needs to rediscover whatever the mindset was that he had in 2009 with regards to his propensity to swing the bat. He could just hit .300 again too and then the walk rate wouldn’t matter much at all, but that’s not something he can control to the extent that he can control his plate discipline.

The one area of his hitting in 2010 that has come under an unfair amount of scrutiny is his hitting of left handed pitching. It was absolutely horrendous, that’s not the issue, Lind had a .156 wOBA against lefties in 2010. The issue relates to the sample size in which Lind failed so badly to produce in. He only faced a lefty 145 times last season, not nearly enough to convict Lind as one who needs a caddy against lefties. To put this in better perspective, it’s interesting how quickly his 2009 .335 wOBA against lefties was forgotten. That came in 179 plate appearances. The reality is that Lind isn’t as bad against lefties as 2010 nor as good as he was in 2009 either. Hopefully, for Lind’s sake he isn’t shielded from lefties by John Farrell this season when he’ll be all of twenty-seven years old through half the season.

That last bit of data is perhaps the most interesting of all Lind’s numbers. His age. He is headed into what would be expected to be his peak period of performance across 2011, 2012 and into 2013. Writing off his ability to hit lefties now would be a mistake. The age factor also leaves ample amounts of optimism that Lind can return to the middle of the lineup force that he was in 2009. As mentioned above, the power is there, that’s a given, but if he wants to be a well rounded hitter he’ll have to at least approach a .260-.270 average and get back on track with his plate discipline.

His projections from Bill James and Marcel both expect a better season from Lind in 2011 than last season, but James’ projection is more optimistic of the two. James’ projects Lind to hit .282 with a .216 ISO where as Marcel has him down to hit only .268 with a .195 ISO. They both essentially agree on his walk and strikeout rates as they both come in around a 7.3 percent walk rate and a 21 percent strikeout rate. The systems, being the unbiased, non-human, computer models that they are, play it safe with the projections. Neither forecasts anything quite like 2009 but the possibility of another .380+ wOBA season shouldn’t be totally ruled out either.

Even though Lind certainly has plenty to deal with at the plate this season, he’ll also be returning to the field in 2011 and perhaps playing more time away from DH than he has before. It won’t be the semi-familiar confines of left field either, Lind is currently learning to play first base in spring training with expectation of being the team’s everyday first baseman this year. That’s good in the sense that Lind has shown fairly convincingly he can’t handle the outfield. But first base isn’t much different from DH in that the majority of his value will still be tied to his hitting.

There’s more or less no way to project how Lind will fair at first base either. Adam Dunn made a similar move from left to first base in 2009, in his first season at first he had a -14.3 UZR in only 67 games. Then when playing there full-time in 153 games last year he had a respectable -3.1 UZR. But previous to 2009 he had already played 127 games at first, Lind has played 11. Lance Berkman might be a better comparison, after never starting a game at first previous to 2005 he played 84 games that season and at least 100 games at first in each of the next four seasons. After a -3.5 UZR in 2005 he posted better than average UZRs for each of the next three seasons.

It’s at least plausible then to envision Lind developing into an average defensive first baseman. But nothing he does defensively will matter if he can’t produce at the plate. There’s every reason to think he can do that too, but that doesn’t guarantee that it will happen either. The Jays have invested in Lind through at least 2013 at a little over five million a season. He won’t have to do much for the Jays to break even on that deal, about 1.5 fWAR would do, but the Jays didn’t sign him with the intent of being happy to break even. They are expecting more and Lind should be ready to deliver as he enters his prime.

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Greg W
Greg W

I agree that Lind is due something of a bounceback, since it would be hard to slide any further downhill. Some additional thoughts though. First, the pressure to live up to a career year, and the signing of a new contract may have caused Lind to ‘grip the bat more tightly’ than in the past. Also, he and Hill and their Silver Slugger awards were put into a position where they were expected to carry the offense, and with Hill hurt, and noone aware of what Bautista was about to do, I’m sure Lind’s loss of patience in the box… Read more »

Greg W
Greg W

Wow, you responded to my comment in a thoughtful and complete way. Are you sure we’re still on the internet?

Always nice to see a Blue Jay article.

One last thought, had Aaron Hill not hit 36 homers in 2009, his 2010 total of 26 would be the Blue Jay record for homers by a second baseman. Would the commentators on TV and radio spun Hill’s disastrous into something more positive if he was setting a record while batting .205?