Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Breaking Down Adam Lind

Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind (26)
Courtesy of Keith Allison licensed under Creative Commons
If you have been on the site in the past couple of weeks you may have noticed the poll in the sidebar asking you fans which player you think will most likely have a bounce back season in 2012 with the options being Travis Snider, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, and Kyle Drabek. As well you also may know a couple of weeks ago I mused about Travis Snider and what the future may hold for such a peculiar player. To continue on in the list this week the post will go over Adam Lind and what the future may hold for him.

Before last year Adam Lind was the exact type of player both Blue Jays fans and fantasy baseball gurus alike expected to make a comeback performance. From a fantasy perspective that comeback performance was definitely prevalent with Lind having been among the leagues elite in terms of RBIs before his back injury that occurred in May, but on a hitting level did Lind really start the year strong?

His RBI total may make you think otherwise, but according to wRC+ Lind wasn't even an above average hitter in April. Instead he hit to a 99 wRC+ (average is 100) and was even below the likes of Corey Patterson (Ugh). The RBI total was instead a result of the fact that the hitter in front of Lind at that point, Jose Bautista, was the best hitter in the league and was getting on base more than 50% of the time. If I was in Lind's position, I bet even I could have gotten a few RBIs.

Once you look at the season as whole it really doesn't become any more impressive. Yes, Lind did up his home run total to 26, but he also he also produced a sub .300 OBP and an fWAR that ranked 4th last among qualified first basemen. As you can plainly see those are not good numbers and they probably don't warrant any praise. Instead all the 2011 season has done is make the 2009 season seem more of an outlier and the 2012 season that much more difficult to project.

For starters where does one lay the blame for the lack of production. Obviously Lind hasn't gotten back to the 35 home runs he hit in 2009, nor has he reached his .305 batting average, but most importantly Lind hasn't reached the .370 OBP and 8.9 BB% that he had in 2009. Since that wondrous year Lind hasn't mustered enough to get within 75 points of that OBP and his best walk rate is just a little more than half of his 2009 numbers.

What is the reason for this? A change in approach? Maybe. Poor hitting skills? Another possibility, but most interestingly though is that when looking at some of the Pitch F/X plate discipline stats on Lind's FanGraphs page one thing that stood out was Lind's O-Swing%. Last year his O-Swing% had a small uptick to 35.9%, which is roughly a couple percent above his 2010 stats and quite a bit above his 2009 ones and that is precisely where the concern lies.

In comparison, in 2009 Lind's O-Swing% was the lowest of his career and by a pretty wide margin. That year Lind managed to resist many outside pitches  and put up a 27.9 O-Swing%, a number that is more than 5% off his career average. For the pitches Lind did swing at outside the strike zone, he made contact with over 3/4 of them and put up a percentage that is again much better than his career average. Additionally in 2011 Lind posted the lowest Zone% of his career at 46.9%, essentially meaning pitchers are giving Lind more pitches outside the zone, but as shown with his O-Swing% he is still swinging at the pitches, that is never a good thing. The graphics below give you a better representation.
Pitches Lind swung at in 2009
Pitches Lind swung at in 201
The difference does not seem to be too large at first glance, but if you really look at the two graphics you can see the change between 2009 and 2011. In the 2009 graphic the pitches are more concentrated on the middle with fewer swings outside the zone, while on the other hand in the 2011 graphic the pitches swing at are less concentrated in the middle and more are outside the zone. More than anything you can see how Lind's batting eye has changed be it a result of approach or regression, they both end the same.

Specifically one thing though that is noticeable in the statistics is Lind's consistent decrease in pitches per plate appearance. In 2009 Lind saw an average of 4.03 pitches per plate appearance or P/PA. In 2010 that same number dropped to 3.81 and in 2011 it was a lowly 3.54, not a good trend. What I believe to be the reasoning behind the drop is a clear change in first pitch approach. Through some Pitch F/X calculations it was found that in 2009 Lind swung at 15.2% of first pitches, in 2010 that number almost doubled to 29.2% and in 2011 it remained for the most part unchanged at 28.2%.

In 2009 when Lind got more pitches thrown to him he was able to have more success because he could wait for the pitch he wanted, but in 2011 seeing less pitches did not afford him that luxury. More than anything what all of this alludes to is most likely one of two things, either Lind has been told to swing more at pitches he likes or he simply lacks the batting eye that he had in 2009. I'm willing to bet the its a combination of the two based on some of his contact rates and swing percentages, but whatever the case it will effect Lind going forward.

If Lind has the same batting eye and approach in 2012 that he has had the past two years you likely won't see too much improvement. The batting average will presumably come up a little from where it was in 2011 because his BABIP suggests he was at the least somewhat unlucky, but beyond that I don't know how you can expect more. Some people may tell you that Adam Lind was hindered by his back injury and that he will easily bounce back to form in 2012, but in 2010 Lind had little to no injury problems and still sucked and this year his best hitting month came the month after he got back from his injury.

In order for Lind to truly get back to his peak season he will have to more of what he did in 2009. That would include swinging at less pitches outside the zone, waiting for his pitch, regaining some opposite field power and much more. Those changes would presumably be able to propel Lind to great heights, but with the 2009 season being the only one in which Lind excelled at all three of those areas it isn't looking good for 2012.

Despite the objective evidence I'm sure you will still see some believers, but I'm not one of them. I'm also not one to suggest the Jays should have signed Pujols or Fielder to replace Lind, but when a certain Torontonian *cough* Joey Votto *cough* comes on the trade market or to free agency I'd bet an improving Jays team takes a shot at him. Until then I'm guessing we will have to live with an underachieving bat at a prime offensive position, with our only hope the prospect of obtaining Votto and Farrell's realization that Lind is not a #3 or #4 hitter.

Stat Definitions: FanGraphs Glossary

Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Texas Leaguers, ESPN



    Thanks for the deep dive into what I'm sure will be the most frustrating guy on this team.

    2 things: when does Farrell figure out kind should not hit clean up? And assuming he makes the team, when does Farrell figure out Thames should NOT be hitting # 2.

    I'm wondering if Thames and Snider cant coexist on this team. For example should they both be tearing it up, do they move Snider to 1B and trade Lind? To me Snider has the potential to be that dominant 1B bat.

  2. great info. its actually quite disappointing to read, not because of whats written, but because it shows that the back injury clearly was not the cause for his bad season & that was what I and I'm sure others were hoping there might be some truth too. unfortunately it doesnt look that way. thanks for your incite tho, now we can know what to look for to see if lind is going to return to form or not, and its not his health unfortunately

  3. Great, great article.

  4. For your first question as to when Farrell figures out that Lind isnt very good I can't say. But as to your other statement that Sndier could become a dominant 1B bat you are probably right, but that would likey decrease his value because over the past couple of years he has greatly improved his defense as evidenced by the fact that last year the Jays had enough confidence to put him in CF for a couple games.

    If anything Thames should be moving to DH, but then he may not have the value to stay there. Its a complicated situation and I'm not quite sure how it will work out, all I can say for the most certainty is Lind will be in the starting lineup next year, barring injury.

  5. Lind has been riding the glory of that 09 season for the past two years. He is obviously not a #4 hitter and the pressure of the cleanup spot and having to produce rbi's may be contributing to his aggressive approach. But he doesn't have the batting eye or atleast hasn't shown it in the last couple seasons to wait for a ball he can drive consistently. Time after time he swings at off speed pitches in the dirt or falls for the high heat. I hope the jays don't waste a whole season on this guy if he is showing the same flawed approach at the plate. Trade him or put him lower in the order and let someone have a crack at getting Joey bats home

  6. linds drop in pitches per plate appearance are due to hitting behind bautista. it was known as both the team and lind had said that he wanted to prove pitchers wrong by intentionally walking bautista to pitch to him. therefore he was more aggressive. theres the explanation you cant find in all these numbers

    1. I'm not sure how much I can believe that because Libds approach changed in 2010 before Bautista had become Bautista. As well for a major part of 2010 Lind was not batting after Bautista, Vernon Wells was

  7. I'm not sure how much I can believe that because Lind had started changing his approach before Jose Bautista was Jose Bautista. As well Lind didn't even hit behind Bautista the whole year, Vernon Wells did.

  8. How hungry and focused on success can you be when you've got a big new contract, you've been shown that you belong, you've proven to yourself that you can hit in the bigs, you have the contentment of a new marriage and the pleasure of financial security? I think that sometimes peace is the enemy of performance. Now we'll learn whether pride will bring that performance level back!