Toronto Blue Jays DH/LF Adam Lind entered the 2009 season with plenty of questions about his long-term prospects. A 3rd-round pick out of South Alabama in the 2004 amateur draft, Lind lashed minor league pitching (including a mammoth .330/.394/.556 slash line between AA New Hampshire and AAA Syracuse in 2006). The southpaw also enjoyed a scalding cup of coffee with the Jays late in the ’06 season (.432 wOBA in 65 plate appearances). Unfortunately, he then proceeded to frustrate hopeful Jays fans and fantasy owners for the next two seasons.
Given the beat down he gave International League pitching and his hot start with Toronto, Lind’s 2007 season had to be considered a disappointment. He posted a .238/.278/.400 line in 311 PA, with a paltry .291 wOBA. Lind often went fishin’ off the plate, chasing nearly 30 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone (25 percent MLB average in ’07). That impatience led to a 5.2% walk rate and a high first-pitch strike percentage. Adam offered at the first pitch or got behind in the count 0-1 61.7% of the time (58.8% MLB average that year). Lind was optioned to the minors in July, and while he struggled upon being brought up again in September (.255 OBP), the Jays still held high hopes. After all, Lind was still just 23.
His work in 2008 looked better on the surface (.282/.316/.439, .325 wOBA in 349 PA), but much of that improvement was a boost in BABIP (.271 in ’07, .322 in ’08) despite a similar line drive rate. In terms of controlling the strike zone, Lind continued to scuffle. His walk rate dipped to 4.7 percent, while he chased even more pitches off the dish (34 outside-swing percentage). His first-pitch strike percentage hiked up to 64.2%. That placed Lind among other hacking luminaries such as Jose Castillo, Chris Davis and Miguel Olivo.
With two years of tepid performances in the batter’s box, Lind was under the microscope this past spring. Most every projection system pegged him as a league-average hitter. CHONE, Marcel, ZiPS and Oliver all had Lind projected for a wOBA somewhere between .326 and .339, with an OBP in the .320’s and a slugging percentage around .450. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system churned out a similar .272/.326/.458 prognostication.
We’re well into June now, and Lind is demolishing those forecasts. 26 in July, Lind is batting a robust .310/.375/.552, good for a .397 wOBA. While he hasn’t turned into a walk machine, Lind has upped his rate of free passes to a more tolerable 8.8 percent.
His outside-swing percentage has been pared down to 27.1 percent, within shouting distance of the 24.8 percent MLB average. After posting a .162 Isolated Power in 2007 and .156 in 2008, Lind is driving the ball to the tune of a .243 mark in 2009. He chopped the ball into the dirt over 50 percent of the time in ’08, but that mark is down to 43.2 percent this season. His first-pitch strike percentage is just 53.4 percent, below the big league average (57.9) for the first time in his career.
Lind’s biggest gains have come against breaking pitches. He struggled with sliders in ’07 and ’08 (with run values of -1.37 and -1.56 per 100 pitches, respectively), but he’s smoking them for a +2.56 run value per 100 tosses this season. Slightly below-average versus curves in 2008 (-0.50 per 100 pitches), Lind has hammered the hook for a +3.54 value this year (8th-best among qualified hitters).
Lind’s scorching start to the 2009 season does not look like a mirage. He’s doing exactly what you’d like a hitter to do: he’s showing more restraint by laying off pitcher’s pitches off the plate, working the count, improving his performance against breaking stuff and hitting fewer grounders. It may have taken him a while to figure things out, but Lind looks like legitimate breakout hitter.
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