Last summer, I wrote a little post titled 2009 Was a Million Years Ago that discussed how fortunes had changed greatly for a few players over just three years. Obviously, I could not cover everything, but I really missed something by not including the Blue Jays’ Adam Lind. In 2009, Lind finally got full season of playing time in Toronto and broke out at age 25, hitting .305/.370/.562 (140 wRC+) with 35 homers. Sure, he was a lousy defender in the outfield, but his bat looked like it would be good enough going forward so that it would play anywhere. The Jays certainly thought so, and bought out the rest of his arbitration years with a four-year, $18 million contract through 2013 that also included club options for 2014-16. It seemed like a no-brainer.
Fast forward to the present: Lind is in the last guaranteed season of that contract, and given his hitting over the last three seasons (combined with a lack of defensive value), it is probably a safe bet that his option for 2014 will not be picked up. Hope springs eternal, especially at this time of year. Lind is hoping that new (old) manager John Gibbons‘ approach with his players and coaching staff will lead to better communication, and thus to better results at the plate for Lind. There may be something to this, but after three consecutive seasons and more than 1500 plate appearances of poor hitting, this sort of seems like grasping at straws. Toronto made some big moves in order to turn itself into a contender, but while their lineup looks different in many ways, Lind is still set to be the team’s primary DH as they make a run at the playoffs in 2013. It is a conspicuous hole on a team clearly built to win now. Is there really any point to running Lind out there again?
There are some obvious reasons Lind is scheduled to get the shot. He is still guaranteed $5 million this season, and it seems unlikely that the Jays could trade him for anything of value , even if they ate the money. Additionally, the Jays do not really have another hitter who could step into that spot to start the year. Their bench likely will have a backup catcher, backup infielder Maicer Izturis, outfielder Rajai Davis, and Omar Vizquel Memorial Utility Man Mark DeRosa. As bad as Lind has been, for the DH spot, all that counts as a bat, and none of those players is likely to hit as well as Lind.
That is the practical explanation, the question is whether, or how much, value Lind really offers at DH beyond “hitting better than Zombie Mark DeRosa.” As noted above, he has been a below-average hitter the last three seasons, and a DH who is a league-average hitter is pretty much a replacement-level player. Perhaps surprisingly, Steamer (.332), Oliver (.325), and ZiPS (.327) all have Lind projected to have his highest wOBA since 2009, although even Steamer’s “optimistic” .332 is not all that great for a DH. It would probably be a few runs above average over the season.
The reasons for the projected improvement likely vary a bit. Each projection system uses its own formulas for regression performance, weighting past seasons, and adjusting for age. Part of it probably has to do with (at least some) projection systems still including 2009, even if it carries considerably less weight now. Aging probably does not hurt Lind’s projections all much, either. He will not turn 30 until July, so while he certainly is not a young player, he is not terribly old, either. Lind has never walked much, but the jump in his walk rate to back around league-average probably helps him (and walk rate generally increases as a player ages), as does his improved strikeout rate. Over the last three seasons, one of Lind’s big problems has been BABIP, and while it should not be treated as completely random or as if he were a pitcher, the projections probably regress it up toward average more given how much random fluctuation BABIP is subject to relative to other stats.
In any case, as said before, even aa wOBA of .332 is not great for a full-time designated hitter. So is Lind really likely to have a point other than not being DeRosa? As Eno Sarris noted last summer, the problem may be Lind’s ground ball tendency. While his ground ball rate was very high in 2012, it was actually lower in his poor 2010 and 2011 seasons, so that cannot explain everything. There is another, more obvious issue facing Lind — he is absolutely terrible versus left-handed pitching. Rather than being a big mark against Lind, however, this may actually point to a way in which his utility can be maximized by the Jays in 2013.
For his career, Lind is a .334 wOBA hitter. However, versus left-handed pitchers his career wOBA is just .267, which is bad even for a backup catcher. This is a problem for any full-time player, but especially a DH. However, when things like this are brought up, it is often forgotten that it has a good side, too: Lind is a career .358 wOBA hitter versus right-handed pitchers, who are the majority of pitchers a team faces. Readers of FanGraphs know that we cannot just use the observed numbers, especially for platoon splits, we need to regress the splits and apply the projected splits to projected 2013 performance. Lind has 755 career plate appearances versus southpaws in the majors, so while he is still heavily regressed, that is a pretty good sample compared to many players. However, given the size of his observed split, his projected split is quite large. Using Steamer’s .332 wOBA projection for Lind and applying the projected split, he projects as just a .290 wOBA hitter vesrus left-handed hitters. That is obviously unacceptable for a player whose only job is to hit. However, versus right-handed hitting, his projected wOBA is .347. A .347 wOBA is hardly that of a star hitter, and maybe not even an average player as a DH, but over a full season it would make him almost average as a DH.
Of course, Lind would not see a full season of plate appearances if he was strictly platooned. But the Jays have to pay him anyway, and they do need someone to play DH. Lind has his limitations, and I am not convinced there is much upside left. But even at a .325 projected overall wOBA, his projected wOBA versus righties is about .340. Rajai Davis is not much of a hitter overall, but he does hit right-handed. He could play DH versus lefties, or give, say, Jose Bautista a day off in the field, and has a big split. Perhaps Moises Sierra could be usesful in this role if he makes the roster. Finding a right-handed hitter is not that tough, and they do not vary nearly as much with respect to their platoon skill. Adam Lind by himself does not project to be an average player at DH when facing a full complement of pitchers. The Jays have also made some noises this off-season about Lind not being platooned. For the sake of But in a well-deployed platoon, Lind would move from being a sunk cost who is not Mark DeRosa to actually having a positive purpose on the Blue Jays’ roster because of, rather than despite, his big platoon split.