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:
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:
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.