Is he the instructor for the new dance-workout craze Limbo with Lambo? No silly! He’s the minor league home run leader who will be making his debut in right field for the Pirates tonight. With 31 long balls in just 436 at-bats, he is seemingly a must-add for fantasy owners in need of power. But alas, there is more to analyzing a minor leaguer’s potential than solely looking at his home run total. Luckily for you, that’s what we provide here on RotoGraphs, a 360 degree view of a player’s likely future, using my trusty crystal ball that has never once failed me.
Andrew Lambo came up in the Dodgers organization and amazingly, the last FanGraphs article that referenced his name was published all the way back in February of 2010. At that time, he was ranked by Marc Hulet as the team’s third best prospect. Hulet speculated that once “[Lambo] matures as a hitter, [he] should be an offensive threat.” After a solid minor league debut in 2008 when he posted a .427 wOBA, he failed to make it past Double-A by the end of 2010, having never exceeded a .366 wOBA since his intriguing first season in rookie ball.
During that 2010 season, he was no doubt considered a disappointment, and he was shipped off to Pittsburgh prior to that year’s trade deadline. He was no better for Pittsburgh during the 2011 season and he spent parts of the season in both Double-A and Triple-A, a level he really struggled at, as evidenced by his weak .249 wOBA. That big power that he has shown this year had still not yet materialized as up to the end of 2011, his highest ISO at any minor league stop was just .189.
In 2012, his season was cut short by a wrist injury, which limited him to just 125 at-bats. When he was on the field, though, he showed improved skills all around, including a higher walk rate, better contact and increased power. Then 2013 happened.
As we often see with prospects, a power explosion erupted from Lambo’s bat this year. Though his strikeout rates have been at the highest marks of his career, aside from his short stint at Double-A in 2010, his ISO has shot up to elite levels. Perhaps most impressive is that not only did Lambo sustain his power spike after his promotion to Triple-A, but he actually increased that ISO mark further.
Whenever we see Triple-A power spikes, we always raise our eyebrows. But, the good news is that his Triple-A squad plays in the International League and the ballpark only inflates left-handed home runs by 6%. The even better news is that his Double-A squad’s home park actually suppresses left-handed homers significantly, by about a third. So he’s no PCL wonder whose gargantuan performance needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, PNC Park does hinder left-handed homers, as it sports a 95 park factor.
The assumption is that Lambo wouldn’t be called up to just sit. With no real competition from anyone who has a future as the Pirates’ right fielder, it would be a surprise if Lambo wasn’t immediately made an every day player. However, as someone who hits from the left side of the plate, it’s possible that he will be part of a platoon with Jose Tabata. Over his minor league career, Lambo has posted an .853 OPS versus right-handers, but just a .730 mark versus southpaws. This year he has improved his OPS versus lefties, posting a .788 mark against them over 138 plate appearances. So it’s possible he initially gets playing time against left-handers and depending on how he looks and performs, the Pirates will decide whether to continue to play him every day.
With Lambo’s strikeout issues this year, which combined with his power surge suggest a new approach at the plate, it would be difficult for him to contribute in batting average. He also isn’t much of a base-stealer. So that essentially makes him a two category asset in home runs and runs batted in. I would be surprised if he earned any positive value in shallower leagues like 12-team mixed, but in deeper leagues where you could gain several points in home runs, he is certainly worth taking a chance on.