In 2009, 25-year-old Adam Lind looked like a breakout star for Toronto. Splitting time between left field and designated hitter, Lind put up a massive .305/.370/.562 line for the Blue Jays, which along with 35 homers earned him some down-ballot MVP support and a Silver Slugger award. That performance earned him a new contract prior to 2010, one which guarantees him $18 million through 2013 and includes team options for up to $38.5 million between 2014-16.
Lind was unable to repeat that line in 2010, as his strikeout rate shot from 16.8% to 23.5% and his OBP sunk nearly 100 points to .287, though he still managed 23 homers. 2011 – now as Toronto’s primary first baseman – saw more of the same, as 26 homers weren’t enough to offset a .251/.295/.439 line. When he struggled even more, hitting just .186/.273/.314 with three homers in May of this year, the Jays removed him from the roster and placed him on waivers, inviting any other team to pick him up for nothing but the cost of his contract.
No one did.
For a player who had been thought of so highly just a few years earlier, it was a shocking fall from grace, and when he went back to Triple-A Las Vegas and crushed the PCL to the tune of .392/.448/.664, few seemed to notice. After all, everyone hits in Las Vegas; I still remember the less-than-immortal Terry Tiffee going .378/.416/.561 when it was a Dodger affiliate back in 2008. Still, as Toronto suffered injury after injury after injury, Lind’s minor-league mashing was enough to earn him a trip back to Canada on June 25.
Since his return, splitting time at first base and designated hitter with Edwin Encarnacion, Lind has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball, putting up a .323/.382/.613 line with five homers over 19 games (17 starts). That’s some serious production, albeit in a small sample size, and so the question must be asked – is Lind on his way back to being the player he was in 2009, one worthy of a daily spot on your fantasy roster?
The answer, it seems, is yes and no. When Lind was sent down to Triple-A in May, Eno Sarris took a detailed look into what had derailed his career:
It might be because of all the ground balls he’s hitting. His ground-ball-per-fly-ball ratio (1.48 this year) is the second-worst of his career. The last time it was this bad, he had the second-worst power year of his career (2008, 1.68 GB/FB). He’s always hit more ground balls than fly balls (career 1.17), but his better power years have come when the ratio was closer to one.
So, the bad news about Lind’s work in Las Vegas is that his ground-ball percentage went up. So so did his line drive percentage, of course, but it’s his ground-ball percentage that has varied more over his career and seems more tied to his power output. So, the fact that his ground-ball percentage was up to 49% in Las Vegas, and the fact that 49% would have been the second-most ground-ball heavy of his minor league seasons, and the second-worst of his major league seasons — that fact does not bode well for his power over the course of the season.
That remains true, and Lind’s 1.46 GB/FB rate so far in 2012 would be his highest since 2008. But that accounts for his entire season, and we’re trying to see if the Lind we’re seeing now is different from the one who lost his job in May. The answer, so far, seems to be “not for the better”. In July, Lind has actually put the ball on the ground more than 55% of the time, more than he’s ever had in the bigs and more than he was in Las Vegas; he’s still hacking away to a 23.1% strikeout rate this month. While he has of course been putting the ball over the fence as well, there’s just no way he’s going to sustain a 30.0% HR/FB rate, and his .349 July BABIP doesn’t seem likely to stick considering that he has been at .277 or lower in 2010, 2011, and so far total in 2012. He’s now been a poor major league hitter for much longer than he was a good one, and it seems unlikely that a month in the pinball atmosphere of the Pacific Coast League suddenly gave him the cure for all of that.
Earlier, I said “yes and no” to the question of whether Lind was “back” and if he deserves some fantasy consideration, and that’s true for a few reasons. Freely available power these days – at the time of writing, Lind was still available in nearly 65% of ESPN leagues – may be the absolute hardest thing to find, especially in-season, and Lind has enough of a track record to show that he can hit home runs in the big leagues. With Jose Bautista on the disabled list and Brett Lawrie banged up, Toronto is going to need power enough that Lind is likely to get a sizeable opportunity to play. Those are all very good things, and in the right situation – an AL-only league, or a deep mixed-league situation – taking a shot on riding Lind’s hot streak seems like a worthwhile low-cost gamble.
Big picture, however, it’s hard to say that Lind looks like a markedly different player than he has been for the last few years. If anything, it’s 2009 that increasingly looks like the fluke, and while a hot streak like the one he’s on is welcome and can even help push your team in the right direction, it’s hardly something to be relied upon.