The Start Of Adam Lind’s Ending

Since the start of 2011, the Blue Jays are tied for 26th in WAR among first basemen. Yesterday, the team sought to do something to change that mark when they demoted Adam Lind to Triple-A. The most shocking thing about the demotion may be that it took so long.

In 2009, Lind took the baseball world by storm, posting a .394 wOBA in his age 25 season. It wasn’t a season that was completely out of left field. He had posted a .402 wOBA at Triple-A before being promoted to the Majors for good at the end of June ’08, and he had a strong pedigree as well — Baseball America ranked him as the Blue Jays’ number-one prospect and the 39th-best prospect overall heading into 2007. So while he didn’t exactly set the world on fire during his stint in the Majors in ’08, big things were certainly expected of the Indiana native.

He delivered on those expectations in 2009, when he hit .305/.370/.562, and bashed 35 homers. Most observers took it as a sign of things to come. Lind had a league-average walk rate, as well as a better-than-average strikeout rate and swinging-strike percentage. He had limited upside since he had little speed and had absolutely no defensive value, but guys who slug .500 don’t grow on trees, and if Lind could come close to replicating his 2009 season in future seasons, he would be an important cog for Toronto as they tried to rebuild themselves into a contender. The problem is it never happened.

Now, it’s difficult to produce a .390 wOBA season. From 2002-2011, only 13% of qualified position player seasons (201 of 1,542) finished with a .390 wOBA or better, and most of those were repeat performances by the same people. But when you parse the list, you find that Lind is at the bottom of it, in terms of what those players did with the rest of their careers. Of the 201 seasons, only 38 were one-timers, and 14 of those were players who had tallied .390+ wOBA seasons in years prior to 2002 (veterans like Jeff Bagwell, Bernie Williams, etc.). That leaves 24 players who did the deed once and only once in the past decade, including Lind. Even here though, we have some nuance to add. Among the 24 are guys who might have added a second if they had compiled enough plate appearances to qualify in a second season — Milton Bradley, Morgan Ensberg, Josh Hamilton, Nick Johnson and Melvin Mora. There are also several players who have a shot at topping .390 again as qualified players, be it this season or soon thereafter — Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Ian Kinsler, Pablo Sandoval and Hamilton. That leaves a short list of one-timers:

Name Season wOBA Career wOBA
Erubiel Durazo 2004 0.391 0.373
Carlos Quentin 2008 0.414 0.362
Richie Sexson 2003 0.391 0.362
Jack Cust 2007 0.393 0.359
Trot Nixon 2003 0.412 0.359
Hideki Matsui 2004 0.392 0.359
Carlos Pena 2007 0.430 0.358
Bill Mueller 2003 0.398 0.351
Garrett Atkins 2006 0.410 0.347
Ben Zobrist 2009 0.408 0.346
Marcus Giles 2003 0.396 0.344
Ryan Ludwick 2008 0.406 0.337
Adam Lind 2009 0.394 0.332
Jose Guillen 2003 0.391 0.329

Jose Guillen spares Lind from having the worst career wOBA in the group, but not by much. Most of the players that hit for a .390 or better wOBA were players who were already above-average and peaked with one very good season. Lind, on the other hand, has never been even been an average hitter outside of 2009. Even his .332 career wOBA is misleading, as he has only reached that mark during two of his seven Major League seasons — 2009, and in his so-abbreviated-that-it-doesn’t-really-count cup of coffee in 2006.

Looking at things from an age perspective, it’s similarly easy to point to Lind as an outlier. Of the 243 qualified position players to play an age-25 season since 1992, only 34 put up a .390 wOBA or better:

Name Season wOBA Career wOBA
Albert Pujols 2005 0.436 0.426
Manny Ramirez 1997 0.412 0.417
Frank Thomas 1993 0.434 0.416
Joey Votto 2009 0.418 0.410
Todd Helton 1999 0.413 0.410
Alex Rodriguez 2001 0.428 0.406
Jeff Bagwell 1993 0.395 0.406
Jim Thome 1996 0.449 0.405
Lance Berkman 2001 0.435 0.403
Ryan Braun 2009 0.405 0.403
Gary Sheffield 1994 0.398 0.392
Vladimir Guerrero 2000 0.434 0.389
Prince Fielder 2009 0.420 0.389
David Wright 2008 0.397 0.385
Bobby Abreu 1999 0.432 0.383
Hanley Ramirez 2009 0.410 0.382
Mark Teixeira 2005 0.405 0.382
N. Garciaparra 1999 0.436 0.376
Adam Dunn 2005 0.391 0.375
Derek Jeter 1999 0.428 0.370
Troy Tulowitzki 2010 0.408 0.370
Scott Rolen 2000 0.390 0.368
Mike Sweeney 1999 0.395 0.366
Roberto Alomar 1993 0.407 0.365
Carlos Quentin 2008 0.414 0.362
Pat Burrell 2002 0.390 0.360
Richard Hidalgo 2000 0.427 0.355
Geoff Jenkins 2000 0.400 0.354
Bobby Higginson 1996 0.414 0.352
Jose Vidro 2000 0.390 0.349
Marcus Giles 2003 0.396 0.344
Adrian Beltre 2004 0.424 0.343
Gregg Jefferies 1993 0.406 0.341
Adam Lind 2009 0.394 0.332

Of the 34, Lind is last, and it isn’t close. And the three closest players to him, Giles, Beltre and Jefferies, all had defensive value during part of all of their careers, something that Lind has never had. There really is no way around it — Lind’s 2009 was a fluke season.

There are things we can point to show why Lind hasn’t been as good since. His aggregate walk and strikeout rates since 2009 have gone backwards. He hit fewer line drives, and was never able to duplicate the success he had in 2009 against fastballs. Perhaps the biggest reason for these drops is because while in 2010 and 2011 he chased pitches outside of the zone much more frequently than league average, he still made contact on pitches outside of the zone at a league-average rate. Unless you’re Vladimir Guerrero, that type of approach is inevitably going to produce weaker contact, and Lind’s drop in slugging percentage — despite the 20-plus homers each season — bears that out.

Where the Blue Jays go from here is an open question. This isn’t necessarily the end of Lind’s career, but the demotion is certainly the start of his ending, and the fact that there is “no timeline” for his return makes it seem like Toronto is moving on without him for at least the rest of 2012. However, as Marc Hulet detailed yesterday, we shouldn’t necessarily expect Yan Gomes to become the everyday first baseman either. That leaves Toronto searching for a first baseman. It’s probably too early to make an impact trade, and things are complicated further for Toronto in that the biggest name that could be on the market — Kevin Youkilis — plays for an in-division team, making it less likely for the two teams to work out a deal. But while the Jays may have to go patchwork at first for the time being, that is better than the alternative. Adam Lind had one great season, and has been hurting Toronto ever since. Unless he can dramatically reinvent himself, the Blue Jays are better off without him.




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


31 Responses to “The Start Of Adam Lind’s Ending”

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  1. sc2gg says:

    Bautista will end up as the “permanent” 1B solution before too long, is what the opinion seems to be.

    Also, here’s another song link for you:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=758aK6Un42U

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    • Dan M. says:

      Bautista is too good in right field now to be moved to first base. I’d say 3 years from now it’s a definite option but they need to solve 1B long before that. EE could be serviceable there, he’s certainly over-qualified to play the position from an athletic standpoint and he is developing into the kind of bat you like to have there. You may see Travis Snider called up and Thames moved to DH if EE becomes the everyday first baseman.

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      • Cidron says:

        you serious about E5 as a 1b full time? do you really want handling the ball more than all but the catcher and pitcher?

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      • David says:

        I thought Encarnacion was a good fielder, he just makes a ton of throwing errors, which would be much less of an issue at 1st base.

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  2. Vin says:

    Great piece, Paul.

    It’s crazy that his decline wasn’t even gradual like other one year wonders like Ludwick and Cust. He just went from great to awful in one year.

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  3. DSC says:

    Why can’t EE be the 1B man for the rest of the year and 2013, with being spelled off by a guy or two?

    And what to do if Rasmus keeps hitting like Mark Reynolds?

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    • Torgen says:

      As long as Rasmus is playing CF and Reynolds is playing 1B/poor 3B I’d rather have Rasmus of the two. Bear in mind that a CF with a .240 BABIP on a 22% LD rate is a sign to expect upward regression. Lind also has bad BABIP for his LD rate, but he has the range of a DH, so you’d expect him to beat them out less often.

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  4. GUY says:

    Enjoyed the piece very much.
    Hate to be that person, but Lind’s triple slash should read a .562 slugging %, not .502.
    Otherwise, well done!

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    • TFINY says:

      Personally, I appreciate it when a typo is pointed out if it is a number. Grammar or spelling can be deciphered from context, but numbers cannot. So, thanks! I wouldn’t have known that that was supposed to be .562 unless I saw this comment.

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    • Paul Swydan says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Thanks for the catch. I went back and fixed it.

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    • Simon says:

      Corrections that affect the sense of a piece are good. Pointless whining about grammar or absolute nittery about things nobody cares about are not. This clearly falls into the first category.

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  5. Kirsh says:

    As a Pirates fan, I’m kind of hoping Huntington gets in on this. Lind isn’t much anymore, but he’d benefit from jumping from the AL East to the NL Central, and lefties don’t fare terribly in PNC Park.

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  6. Evil says:

    re: Scrg People who say Jose will be playing 1b before too long are delusional. Yes 1b is a black hole (E5 is a FA at years end) and Gose might get a sept call up or a long look next spring but Jose is still a beast in RF, his arm is a cannon and while he might not have the speed, he makes up for it with routs and instincts. Nothing but your hope suggests he’d move to 1b before his defensive skills decline, so we’re talking 2-3 years. AA for all his praise should half chased Rizzo. There is no reason not to have, Cooper / McDade are not options leaving no 1b in the system!

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    • Sam Samson says:

      Why so dismissive of Cooper? He has an OPS of 841 at AAA this year, with as many walks as strike outs. Last season over 544 AAA plate appearances he had an OPS of 975 with a a 67-43 BB-K ratio. Is it his fielding, or his mediocre MLB results in 2011? What am I missing?

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      • Feeding the Abscess says:

        OPS of .841 in the PCL is pretty mediocre for a 1B prospect.

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      • Sam Samson says:

        Well obviously PCL numbers are inflated league-wide, but I believe the PCL slash line is .275/.341/.420, and he did hit for a 975 OPS in 2011, so I was surprised people were either not mentioning him at all or dismissing him as “not an option” without explanation.

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      • 198d says:

        the knock on Cooper seems two-fold: he’s got absolutely no defensive value, which relegates him to DH duty, and he’s got no pop, which excludes him from the aforementioned role.

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    • Brian the fist says:

      This is not true. Jose is not a good fielder. I know this because I watch every game. Same reason I know rasmus has been hitting better than his slash line. Jose will end up at first as soon as gose is ready for everyday action

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  7. Jimmy Wahl says:

    A Why not trade Arencibia and a low level arm to the Angels for CJ Cron?

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    • colour says:

      Why would the Jays do that? A young major league catcher for a 1B/DH prospect that’s still years away?

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  8. Impossibles says:

    Isn’t this article kind of self-fulfilling? Here’s a player who had a good year then sucked, so now we will compare him to other players who are good to show how much he sucked since then. His career numbers will of course be awful, so why use them as some sort of comparison?

    A more amusing article would be to show how bad Lind has been in the last 2 years.

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  9. rotofan says:

    Seems to me almost all of the analysis on Lind is missing a key element: What role has a bad back played in his decline?

    Last year Lind actually hit well overall the first three months; he was passable in April, dominant in May and strong in June. The reason his season numbers were so poor was he was abysmal in July, August and September, a stretch when he was having issues with his back.

    The same back issue troubled him during Spring Training, and while neither Lind nor the Blue Jays have said much about during the season, I wonder if is still bothering him or affecting his swing.

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    • colour says:

      If he was passable in April, then he did not hit well in the first three months. Also he only played 9 games in May. So that makes 1 and 1/3 months worth of good hitting, and then sucking again. Just looks like a hot streak to me.

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    • Mitch says:

      Those who follow the Blue Jays know that Lind’s list of excuses has grown quite long since 2009.

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  10. Bret says:

    I wish this article came out before my AL only draft. *sigh*

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  11. Jimmy Hammond says:

    +1 for the Mobb Deep reference

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