Has there been a more frustrating player over the last few years than Adam Lind? He had a breakout 2009, hitting 36 homers with a nice .396 wOBA, giving Toronto hope that they’d found a pillar of their offense for years to come. The next year he collapsed under a pile of strikeouts and poor BABIP, and while he managed to retain some of his power, three years of nearly identical — and lousy — wOBA marks of .309, .316, and .316 ended with a demotion to Triple-A in 2012. Lind’s Toronto career seemed over; his fantasy relevance almost certainly was.
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.
“Being a sunk coast who is not Mark DeRosa.” If there’s higher praise you can say about a man, I’m not sure I know what it is.
But Lind made the team and started on Opening Day, and has actually made 37 starts between first base and designated hitter. With Brett Lawrie battling a sprained ankle and regular first baseman Edwin Encarnacion covering for him at the hot corner, Lind’s playing time as increased, as he’s started each of the last five games at first base.
Oh, and he’s hitting a lovely .329/.411/.521. Does Lind have a purpose now, or is this just another tease? He’s owned in less than 20% of ESPN leagues, so it’s worth investigating.
Here’s what we do know at a glance — it’s somewhat BABIP-related, but not entirely. No, Lind is not going to keep up a .373 mark all season long, but BABIP doesn’t explain a walk rate that’s 12.9% when it had never been even to 9.0% before, or a strikeout rate that would be a career-low 16.6% if he could keep it up.
That seems to be an indication of a player who has changed his approach, and wouldn’t you know it, Lind himself said just that in an interview with Shi Davidi of sportsnet.ca a few weeks ago:
“I’ve decided not to be stubborn anymore and just try to hit fastballs,” explains Lind. “There are times you can do that, but there are times you have to realize pitchers aren’t going to throw you fastballs. There were times last year they’d throw me two fastballs for balls on purpose so they could throw me a 2-0 changeup and I’d just ground out. Hopefully with the walks I’ve taken and the at-bats I’ve had, it won’t let them go about it that way because I’ve been more patient at the plate.”
Because we’re on FanGraphs, we can test that. Lind has indeed become far more selective, swinging at 24.5% of pitches outside the zone. He’s been over 30% (sometimes well over) in each other full season of his career, except for — wait for it — 2009. I think we’re on to something here. Lind’s swinging at fewer pitches inside the zone as well, and so an overall swing percentage that has occasionally topped 50% is down to 37.5%.
Lind also noted in that quote that he’d just end up grounding out on bad pitches a lot, and that’s down as well, from 48.3% to 42.6%. That’s helped improve his line drive rate as well, though he’s traded in a bit of power in exchange for that patience; his HR/FB rate is the lowest he’s ever had.
But there’s also this: new (old) manager John Gibbons has realized that Lind absolutely cannot hit lefty pitching, and so Gibbons has kept Lind away from southpaws almost entirely, giving him only 15 plate appearances against them all season.
Lind is still owned in fewer than 20% of both ESPN & Yahoo leagues, and that might be too low. I recently picked him up for a lone dollar to fill a utility spot in a league where I’d lost three players to injuries in four days, and he seems more than worth the risk for a price like that — especially if you are in daily leagues and can keep him active only when the Blue Jays are facing a righty pitcher. Lind is never going to repeat 2009, and that BABIP is all but certain to come back down. But I do like it when we can point to something more tangible for a player’s improvement, and Lind’s change in approach is not only smart, it’s provable based on the results. For now, he seems like a pretty solid low-cost option if you have a bench spot to fill.
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