For those that drafted him this year, or last year, or have him in a keeper, or pretty much if you have had Brett Lawrie on your fantasy baseball roster at any other point other than the last two months of the 2011 season, it has been a frustrating ride. He stole 30 bases in 2010 at AA and he hit 18 HRs in just 329 plate appearances at AAA before making his way to the big leagues. There was lots of hype about what this… amped up… third baseman could do for the rebuilding Blue Jays.
To say that his performance over his last 600-or-so at-bats in the big leagues has been disappointing is a bit of an understatement. Chris Davis of Baltimore has 14 home runs this season in 158 at-bats, Brett Lawrie has 15 home runs in his last 645 major league at-bats. When you toss in the 59 RBI and 13 SB over his last 157 games, it hasn’t been quite what we expected.
Were expectations too high? If you average out what he’s done this year and last, he’s still a double-double (home runs and stolen bases) third baseman over the course of a “full” season (550 ABs-ish) and he turned 23 years old earlier this year. He’s been a serviceable fantasy player at times, but so has Ryan Roberts and no one drafts Brett Lawrie and hopes for Ryan Roberts. There is certainly still time for him to fulfill expectations if they are reasonable. But what exactly is wrong with Brett Lawrie? Let’s take a look.
Where to begin?
- Lawrie is hitting .180 on the year coming into today with an OPS of .577, good for one point higher than Placido Polanco.
- His line drive rate on batted balls this year is 10.9%, nearly half of what it was last year (20.0%).
- For most of the season, he’s been hitting sixth, seventh or eighth. In a lineup that features strikeout kings like J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus, this isn’t a batting position conducive to production. Not to mention he has Maicer Izturis and Munenori Kawasaki hitting behind him a fair amount, so those nine runs and 11 RBIs seem about right (no matter how wrong it is).
- He has one, one, stolen base attempt this year in 122 at-bats and was caught. Through two months last year (184 at-bats), Lawrie had 10 attempts (7 successful), or one attempt every 18 or so at-bats.
- Lawrie’s K% is up from last year, his BB% is down from last year and thus his K:BB rate is up from last year. In fact, it has gone from 1.94 K:BB in his rookie year to 3.88 as of today, literally twice as bad.
All in all, it’s not pretty for Lawrie and by extension, not pretty for his fantasy owners. There is some hope for him, though, so let’s see how he improves.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say Brett Lawrie will not hit .180 this year. Quite the limb eh? He had a reasonable sample size for us to draw on as to what his BABIP should be; it was .318 in 2011 (171 PAs) and .311 in 2012 (536 PAs). As of today, it sits at .205 for 2013. That number should get way, way higher here sooner rather than later. Once that BABIP creeps up to .300, Lawrie’s batting average should creep up as well. I would expect him to settle around .250 by the end of the season, there’s just no way this can continue.
Line Drive Rate
This is something that has already started to improve. If you want to know how rough of a start to the season it was for Lawrie (mind you, he started the season on the disabled list and missed most of spring training), he had one line drive in the month of April, a span of 52 at-bats. He has nine line drives so far in May, yet has a lower SLG% this month (.329) than last (.346). This is turning into a mess.
I have a theory on Lawrie’s struggles driving the ball. Anyone that follows me on Twitter knows I rant about how he moves his hands around in his at-bats. I’ll show you what I mean.
Here’s a home run from earlier this year (I know it’s a bad example to use a home run, but it’s incidental to my point). If you watch him as the pitch is approaching, his hands are still moving around and he essentially has to correct his hands as he’s making his swing. I am not a baseball scout, I have not played the game other than in back yards and softball. One thing I do know is that it’s much more difficult to correct the path of an object in motion than an object that is still. And I didn’t even take Grade 11 Physics.
By contrast, look at this single he hit in his rookie year. It’s at the 0:08 mark. His hands are quiet as he comes through the ball (you have to look closely) and he squares it into the outfield. Trying to square up a round ball with a round bat is hard enough without making mid-swing adjustments to the path of the bat. I won’t post other videos, but guys like Robinson Cano and Brandon Phillips are known to have this “bat wiggle” for lack of a better term but they quiet their hands down a split second before the pitch is delivered. Lawrie, it appears, does not.
Once Jose Reyes is back healthy (hopefully within a month), there is no chance Brett Lawrie hits higher than 6th in the lineup. It will go Reyes-Cabrera-Bautista-Encarnacion-Lind and we may as well accept that. If Lawrie can hit 6th, maybe he drives in some runs. If Lawrie hits 8th behind Rasmus and Arencibia, 60 RBIs will be a struggle this year. There’s not a whole lot that can be done here and for those in keeper leagues, at least the top four guys will be at top of the order next year, too.
This is one that’s a bit confounding. Now, he hasn’t really been on base a whole lot (his ridiculous .241 OBP is about 100 points lower than what would be acceptable), but I would think he would have more than one attempt by now. It’s not an organizational thing with Toronto; even without Jose Reyes for most of the year so far they are still 7th in stolen bases in all of baseball. It might have to do with the fact that despite having above-average speed, he fucking sucks at stealing bases; Lawrie is 0/1 this year, had a 62% success rate last year and sports a 66.6% success rate for his career. A good base-stealer should be at 75%, so maybe he just isn’t a good base-stealer for a variety of reasons (Read: One reason, he can’t read a pitcher’s delivery). The coaches may have told him to tame down his attempts so if he isn’t going to steal bases, his fantasy value will take a MASSIVE hit for the year. If you can’t hit, you better be able to run, and he’s done neither.
K-Rate and BB-Rate
Lawrie can be… a bit jumpy at times. This Red Bullitude means he has been prone to breaking pitches. Is he ever. He’s seeing 4.1% less fast balls this year than he did last year and he’s not very good against breaking pitches. In fact, FanGraphs has fastballs being the only productive pitch for Lawrie this year (with split-fingered fastballs included) and anyone that watches him knows this all too well. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out Lawrie’s Slugging% HeatMap against breaking pitches. It’s not pretty.
On the numbers side, he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone (and making less contact with them) as well as swinging at less pitches in the zone and making way less contact with them. I’m talking Brett Lawrie’s Z-Contact% this year (the rate at which he makes contact with pitches swung at in the zone), is down over 10% from last year. When you’re making contact at a drastically lower rate than just a year previous, there is something really wrong. Could it be his hands? Maybe. I’m not a scout or a coach. But there is something very, very wrong with Brett Lawrie’s swing (or eye, I suppose).
Lawrie hasn’t had a sustained hot streak yet this year. With the rate he’s hitting fly balls, he’s at 40.2% this year on batted balls, was just under 30% last year, he can push for 20 home runs. I think he probably settles in the 15-17 home run range. That batting average should come up but it’s been so bad so far that if he gets above .260 I would be more than thrilled.
He’ll crack 15 home runs, he’ll get to hopefully .260. Not a great season, but not deplorable for a 23-year old. However, the rest of the numbers won’t be there. If he can get to 60 runs and 60 RBIs, that should be a success considering where he’s hitting in that batting order with the pieces around him. Maybe they told him to quiet down on the basepaths so where his final stolen base total ends up, no one really knows. But if he gets to 10 swipes for the year, considering what we’ve seen so far, that will be a wonderful success.
Expecations are the problem. You cannot, cannot, score 100 runs with Munenori Kawasaki and Maicer Izturis driving you in. You cannot, cannot, crack 80 RBIs when the batters in front of you (Arencibia, Rasmus) strike out in over a third of their plate appearances. It seems people forget the context a player is placed in. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, batting 8th in the 2013 Blue Jays lineup is not going to help counting stats. Period. Lessons learned for those that draft players out of context.
If you’re looking to buy low, I would refrain in a re-draft league. I like what Lawrie can do but he’s just a pit in the RBI/R departments and stolen bases are a crapshoot. If it’s a keeper and you can stomach possibly another year just like this one, go for it.