Y’know, it’s real easy to latch on to some hopelessly clueless opinion among a tiny vocal minority and bash it into the ground over the course of a long blog post as though anybody actually capable of comprehending the words on their screen would be dullard enough to disagree, so… let’s do that.
There’s a thing that I’ve seen out there, on Twitter and in the comments here, where Jays fans, terrified of messing with success and off-put by “antics” and “immaturity” that absolutely pale in comparison to last year’s genuinely fuck-skulled throwing-a-helmet-at-an-umpire incident, want to keep Brett Lawrie away from the big league club once he’s healthy– ostensibly to work on his hitting, and probably because of some bullshit about “sending a message.”
That sort of stuff is particularly funny to me, because back when– after his 43 game 2011 cameo resulted in a .407 wOBA– Lawrie could do no wrong, fans were stampeding each other to be the first to defend him against those who dared question his explosion of anger at an umpire. But now that he’s posted a .209/.268/.374 line in his last 153 plate appearances, his always-evident quirks have stopped being lauded and have started to look like a problem to some.
Real tough to see how this complicated evolution in some fans’ minds has taken place, huh?
Of course, it’s not that they’re wrong to have noticed that Brett Lawrie has been rather putrid at the plate for quite some time now. It’s just… a funny thing happened on the way to their believing Lawrie has suddenly turned to dog shit.
Well, two funny things, actually. The first one is that somehow the “keep a really good player off this team” brigade forgot how much better Lawrie is defensively than Maicer Izturis, Mark DeRosa, Edwin Encarnacion, or whatever combination of third basemen the team might send out there in his stead. In 2012, of the 30 third basemen with more than 600 innings at the position, Lawrie ranked 10th by UZR and was first according to DRS– and that’s after both metrics adjusted for the extra credit they were giving him when he played short right field in the club’s defensive shifts. He is a good fielder with supreme range at the position, which absolutely qualifies him among the elite defensively at his position. (Note: that’s better than those other guys).
The second thing is how injuries have coincided with his struggles at the plate.
It doesn’t look particularly good in comparison to the jaw-dropping numbers that Lawrie put up in his cameo as a rookie, but he entered last year’s All-Star break with a .291/.334/.495 line, which was good for a .332 wOBA– a mark that would put him fifth on this year’s version of the Jays, behind Lind, Encarnacion, Bautista and Rasmus. (Excluding Reyes and other guys who haven’t played semi-regularly so far).
Lawrie entered last year’s break playing fantastic defence, and just seven days into the season’s fourth month, having gotten better and better with each turn of the calendar. His wRC+ for April of last season was 94– perhaps slowed by a groin issue that, according to his player card at Baseball Prospectus, flared up on March 17th (St. Paddys, bro! Also, about two weeks from Opening Day) and lasted for eight days. His wRC+ moved to 97 for the month of May, 2012, then he really began to pound the shit out of it, posting a wRC+ of 143 in June.
By then, however, injures were perhaps already becoming a factor. BP notes that he suffered soreness in his knee on June 20th, which Jeremy Warnemuende of MLB.com explained at the time was from a wrong-legged slide in Milwaukee– which Lawrie chose to do “because of an abrasion on the back of his left leg.”
As I mentioned, the All-Star break began for Lawrie on July 7th, but for the rest of the Jays it was actually a day later. Lawrie was listed as day-to-day through the break with “lower back tightness,” according to his BP card, and sat out the final game of a series with the White Sox because of it. He had left the game on the 7th early, according to a tweet from my ‘Merkin friend, MLB.com’s White Sox man, Scott Merkin, as a “precaution.”
Lawrie soldiered on through July and early August, even after his scary fall into a camera bay at the new Yankee Stadium on July 18th, though he posted just a .243/.289/.371 from the resume of play after the All-Star break until he left a game with tightness in his ribcage on August 3rd. When he returned for 23 games of the club’s miserable September he was no better, hitting .237/.315/.361 to close out the season.
At the time he was finally placed on the DL for the ribcage injury, August 8th, John Lott wrote in the National Post that Lawrie “may have pushed his gladiator act too far this time.”
Using judicious language, Farrell said Lawrie’s oblique injury may have been more serious than he let on before he landed on the disabled list Aug. 4.
“As much as he played in discomfort leading up to his original placement on the disabled list, I think he’s well aware now that’s he’s got to be — I don’t want to say forthright, but he’s got to express anything that he is feeling to get back to the point of being able to [play] day in and day out,” Farrell said.
You could be forgiven for reading that to apply to some of the other bumps and bruises Lawrie suffered along the way– and, if you’re like me, for maybe thinking twice about taking anything that he did post-All-Star-break with a giant grain of salt, or even throwing it away all together.
This year, too, has followed a similar path– though, finally heeding John Farrell’s advice, it seems Lawrie has been doing right by his own body and admitting when he’s ailing. I felt it was a positive step when, while away with Team Canada in a WBC tuneup this March, Lawrie took himself off the field and dealt with the disappointment of not being able to play for his country by admitting there was soreness in his ribcage again– this time on the other side.
What that did, unfortunately, was cost him his spring training, plus several games at the start of the season. As he was just getting up to speed, opposing pitchers were beginning their turn towards mid-season form, and perhaps that has as much to do with his struggles at the plate in 2013 as any of the stuff I’d prefer to gloss over here– like his noisy stance, his weak approach, and his decline in contact and walk rates. *COUGH*
Maybe I’m being too forgiving for the injuries. Maybe, if he’s going to be hurt so much, Lawrie needs to get his approach into a better position to hit the ground running post-rehab stints. Maybe all this is exactly why he needs to spend more time at Triple-A than the average big leaguer on a rehab assignment would.
But man… they could really use his glove as soon as possible. And even at his worse he’ll out-produce what we’ve seen so far from Izturis and Bonifacio. Aaaand let’s not forget that this kind of situation is pretty much exactly why the former Vegas hitting guru, Chad Mottola, was promoted to the big club this season.
Get him healthy, get him some time to get back to speed, and maybe we can get to forgetting all about the 330-odd plate appearances in the wilderness that we’ve seen from him this year and during the second half of last. Shit, even Paul Swydan, who wrote at FanGraphs earlier this month about how awful he’s looked and how the days of imagining Lawrie as a superstar may be over, had to admit that the injuries are real coincidental to his poor performance, and that there’s still got to be some hope there.
I can buy that. I can really totally buy that.
It’s that missing bat, of course, that got him to the Majors this quickly. It can’t have gone too far.
Lawrie, according to Alex Anthopoulos, via a post from Shi Davidi at Sportsnet, will begin a rehab assignment in Florida on Wedenesday, and will see some time with the Buffalo Bisons before returning to the big club.