4:00 PM ET – Boston (1) vs. Detroit (1) – John Lackey (2.8 rWAR) vs. Justin Verlander (4.6 rWAR)
8:00 PM ET – St. Louis (2) vs. Los Angeles (1) – Lance Lynn (1.8 rWAR) vs. Ricky Nolasco (0.4 rWAR)
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To say that Brett Lawrie’s 2013 was a tale of two halves somehow doesn’t even do it justice. There was certainly a point where it looked like that was going to be the case– much to our delight. Back in late August, we passed along a comment from a scout who had spoken to Baseball Prospectus and said, unequivocally, “I am comfortable saying that he is going to be a superstar third baseman, and it’s more likely to happen sooner than later.”
At that moment Lawrie was healthy for the first time in basically a calendar year. His swing was quieter, and he was finishing up his best month at the plate since he burst onto the scene in August of 2011.
Taken as a whole, the difference between his first- and second-half splits is encouraging, with the second-half ones being pretty close to what you’d expect of a player who missed Spring Training, rushed himself back into the lineup, went down with an ankle injury, and then came back as healthy as he’d been since the first half of 2012. In the second half of this season his walk rate ticked up by two percent over the first half, and his strikeout rate dropped by 12%, thanks largely to a month of August in which he made crazy contact, combining to walk and strikeout in just 12% of his plate appearances.
His second half slash line of .283/.346/.417 looks very nice for a third baseman who plays outstanding defence (despite not being nearly as well liked by the advanced metrics– perhaps because of the lack of shifting– in 2013 as compared to 2012), and still might have some additional home run power in his bat, considering that he’s still going to be just 23 years old for another three months.
But, while we really don’t want to put too much stock into a single month of data, his September wasn’t so hot, and it would be much easier to salivate over the possibilities of a Jays lineup fully healthy and running on all cylinders, with Lawrie fulfilling his supposed superstar potential, if not for it.
Though, actually, it does do a pretty good job of illustrating the fine line between success and failure in this game. Lawrie’s wOBA for September was 70, as compared to 146 for August, but some of the raw numbers aren’t as far apart as they seem:
In August he had 117 PA, 26 singles, 8 doubles, two homers, seven walks, and seven strikeouts.
In September it was 112 PA, 20 singles, 4 doubles, one home run, seven walks, and sixteen strikeouts.
He also had a triple in August. So… it’s not like there isn’t a significant difference, especially in terms of extra base hits, between the two months, but we wouldn’t expect those sorts of things to be distributed evenly anyway. If we feel comfortable lumping the entire second half sample together– and I think we probably should– it’s really not so bad.
Better than that, even.
Still not great, though. Not for a guy whose position wasn’t supposed to matter all that much, given that his bat would carry him at whichever position he ended up on. But again, he’s still just 23, and I think we’d all really like to see what he could do if he actually was able to stay on the field for a full season– something that hasn’t happened since 2010, his last year in the Brewers system.
Crucially, the odds of that happening seem better now than ever, though, as Lawrie displayed a newfound on-field maturity this season, appearing to play more in control, while still being able to take advantage of his tremendous athleticism.
What may also bode well for him is the fact that Lawrie posted a reverse split in 2013, hitting left-handed piching to the tune of just a 66 wRC+. That figure includes both halves of the season, so if we believe he’s more likely to be the guy we saw in the second half, it’s bound to get a little better on its own, but it’s still rather odd.
And… maybe it’s nothing, but I can’t help but immediately make the connection to the fact that J.P. Arencibia oddly struggled mightily against right-handers too (but what didn’t he struggle at?), though by the end of the year his platoon splits ended up pretty even, and Edwin Encarnacion wasn’t quite himself in the split either. Could this have had something to do with the Jays’ displeasure with their hitting coach? Granted, Edwin worked primarily with Dwayne Murphy, we’re told, but… yeah, I don’t know. Maybe?
Probably not. But either way, you’d think that Lawrie would be hard pressed to be that bad against left-handers again, which is another reason– when I allow myself to indulge in some heavy wishcasting– I can actually believe he may finally be on the cusp. No, really.