Lind Busting Out

The Blue Jays success is probably the biggest story early of the first 20% of the major league season. The preseason focus was squarely on the Boston/New York/Tampa triumvirate of power, with Baltimore and Toronto relegated to tough luck also-rans in the best division in baseball. A good defense and a strong bullpen wasn’t expected to be able to make up for an offense that had some problems and a patchwork rotation, and even finding someone who thought the Jays would finish above .500 was a challenge.

However, the Jays offense has been a monster so far this year, scoring runs in bunches and pounding opposing pitchers into submission. The huge surprise has been the inexplicable surge from Marco Scutaro, but just as vital to the team’s success has been the mashing of Adam Lind. The 26-year-old had posted just a pedestrian .282/.316/.439 in 349 plate appearances last year after a .238/.278/.400 line in 311 PA in 2007. Put together, his ’07/’08 seasons inspired little confidence, as he played at +0.2 win level over a full season’s worth of innings.

2009 was essentially Lind’s make or break year. If he flopped at the plate again, he risked getting tagged as a AAAA player, a guy who could hit minor league pitching but couldn’t translate that success against higher quality pitchers. It’s still early, but Lind is doing everything possible to ensure that the season ends up making his career instead of ending it.

His .333/.405/.561 line is eerily similar to the .328/.394/.534 mark he posted in Triple-A last year. His walk rate, strikeout, and isolated power are all almost identical to what he did in the International League last year as well. He’s never going to be the most patient guy in the league, but he’s doing a better job of swinging at strikes, cutting his O-Swing% from 34% last year to 24% this year. He’s been far more selective overall, as he’s swinging the bat just 40% of the time this year, way down from his 50% mark in his previous major league trials.

Despite swinging less often, his contact rate is basically unchanged, suggesting that Lind’s change is almost entirely related to chasing less bad pitches. By refining his approach and making pitchers throw him something he can hit, he’s establishing himself as a legitimate major league hitter.

He’s almost certainly not this good, of course. The updated daily ZIPS projection that we debuted here on the site today projects him for a .349 wOBA over the rest of the 2009 season, way down from the .417 wOBA he’s currently posting. His current .384 batting average on balls in play isn’t sustainable, no matter how much more patient he has gotten. Regression is coming. But his early season performance should give Blue Jays fans hope that Lind can hit major league pitching.

It may have taken him awhile to adjust, but it’s unlikely that Lind will be making any return trips to the minors anytime soon.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

9 Responses to “Lind Busting Out”

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  1. Eric/OR says:

    Hey Dave, this is Eric from Redding in MMBL. After returning from a long baseball hiatus, I was glad to see you writing for Fangraphs, a site I enjoy! Keep up the great work! Anyway, what do you think of Lind’s fielding? I’ve noted what looks to be conflicting conclusions based on the various metrics. UZR liked him well enough in a small ’07 sample, but he’s looked like Jason Kubel with more pop since then. Is the guy a DH at 25?! Take care …

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  2. Ckremer says:

    Lind is looking pretty solid thus far. Hope to see him develop to strengthen another AL East team. I just love how talented that division is and I only want to see it get more so.

    What about the breakout of Michah Owings bat? Are the Reds going to have to find a way to get him up to the plate more often?

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  3. JH says:

    One thing that I’ve been waiting for someone to point out about the Blue Jays early-season success is that they’ve played a grand total of 3 games against AL East opponents. They’re certainly elevating themselves into the contention discussion, but they’ve had zero games against Tampa Bay, Boston, and New York.

    Tampa Bay, in contrast, has played 14 games against the Yankees and Red Sox. The Red Sox have played the Yankees and Rays 13 times, and the Yankees have played 10 games against the Rays and Red Sox.

    The Blue Jays are a nice early-season story, but they’ve yet to play any of the teams considered the best in baseball going into the season. Even not knowing this I’d expect them to slip a bit.

    None of this takes anything away from Adam Lind, but I don’t think the Blue Jays’ charmed run at the top of the division will last much longer. The tough part of the schedule finally starts tomorrow for Toronto, and 9 of their 19 remaining games this month will be against the Yankees and Red Sox. Party’s over.

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  4. Mark says:

    Considering that the Jays have played 500 against the Sox/Yanks over the past 3 years I’m not really sure it’s as big a deal as people make it out to be.

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    • JH says:

      The small sample size performance of the Blue Jays vs. the Red Sox and Yankees the past 3 years is 100% irrelevant to how they’ll do this year.

      More importantly, the Blue Jays have played 3 games against AL East opponents. In other words, they’ve only played in 3 games where it was guaranteed that a team from the AL-East would take a loss. There have been a total of 38 games where an AL East team was guaranteed to lose this year, and the Blue Jays have only played in 3 of them, leaving their other 4 divisional opponents, 3 of whom were projected to be roughly equal in quality, to distribute 35 guaranteed losses amongst themselves.

      The Blue Jays’ rivals have been forced to gain wins at each others’ expenses, normalizing their records around .500, while the Blue Jays have been able to pick up far more “free” wins outside the division. Now, obviously those wins aren’t actually free, and they had to play good baseball to get to where they are, but when a team in the toughest division is playing far more games outside the division than any of its rivals, it’s in a great position to be in first place.

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      • Ari says:

        Please. The Rays haven’t had a problem against Boston or NYY, they are 9-6 against them. Against BAL, CWS, MIN, OAK SEA : 6-12. Boston’s only real problem has been TB, and New York’s only problem has been Boston.

        It doesn’t matter who you collect the wins against. If the Jays were 27-7 people would still be playing the soft schedule card. If you don’t want to acknowledge the Jays that’s fine but you don’t need to come in here and rain on our parades. We know regression is coming, but the Jays have already spent more time in first place in 2009 than 2001-2008 combined. Let us enjoy it while we can. With the amount of arms with have vying for rotation spots, there’s certainly hope.

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      • JH says:

        I’m not trying to take away hope. The point isn’t any one team’s “problem” with any other team. It’s that the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, and Orioles necessarily have to have lost 35 games so far this year between them.

        The schedule so far has mandated a certain distribution among all of the teams in the AL East except the Jays. With as much as they’ve all had to playe each other, either all 4 teams would be around .500, or one or two would emerge as clear winners. As is, there’s a clear winner (Boston), a clear loser (Baltimore), and 2 teams right in the middle. The Jays, to their credit, have taken full advantage of it. They’re better than expected so far, and the other teams have scuffled a bit in limited action against other divisions, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Blue Jays’ division rivals have been competing for a finite amount of wins, while the Jays have been competing for their wins in a completely different pool. That’s going to change.

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  5. DP says:

    JH, lets just admit your point is simple no one is misunderstanding your logic, just the implications. Boston has proven its dominance in the AL east, obviously. The Jays are simply continuing a trend which has continued since last year: AL east teams love to beat up on AL central teams. No one expects the Jays rag tag rotation to match up against Boston very well, or expect a collection of rookies to eat the amount of innings needed to get to the post season, but hey one can hope. Until then I for one will be aware of the imbalance in the Jays record, but I will also continue to enjoy it. Despite how you try to rationalize your point, the Red Sox are a better team no doubt, who cares, thats why we watch the games.

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  6. Tom Au says:

    The Jays are tops right now because just about the whole team is busting out. Aaron Hill for one, and even recent acquisitions Jose Bautista and Kevin Millar (relative to their earlier selves). That’s all IN ADDITION to Lind,and the “inexplicable surge of Marco Scutaro.” Only Travis Snider is lagging, and that is mainly in comparison to a very strong team.

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