Why Isn’t Adam Lind Better?

With 35 home runs in his first full season of Major League Baseball, Adam Lind finished the 2009 season on top of the world. At 25 years old, he was putting up Alex Rodriguez type numbers, getting on base and slugging with equal aplomb.

After signing away his final year of league minimum salary and three years of arbitration with a four year $18 million contract extension at the beginning of the 2010 season, Lind had his worst season as a professional baseball player, producing outs in 71.3% of his plate appearances. Perhaps most appalling were his league worst numbers against left handed pitching, including a horrendous .341 OPS and a .156 wOBA.

It wasn’t pretty, but after returning from a May injury with a dominant June this season, it appeared as though Lind’s 2010 was an outlier and the 2009 year of dominance was a better measure of his actual talent than his more recent struggles. Then July and August happened, and the Lind of 2010 made an unwelcome return.

Since the beginning of July, Lind has gotten out in more than 76% of his plate appearances. Over the 110 times he stepped into the batter’s box during the month of August, he collected only a single walk. That’s awful. Even Vladimir Guerrero had a better walk rate last month than Lind.

This is what appears to be the major difference between Good Lind and Bad Lind: one takes pitches, the other doesn’t. We can compare his annually increasing swing rate over the last three years:

  • 2009 – 43.8%
  • 2010 – 50.0%
  • 2011 – 51.3%

However, most damning is the decreasing number of pitches he’s seeing in every plate appearance:

  • 2009 – 4.03 pitches per PA
  • 2010 – 3.81 pitches per PA
  • 2011 – 3.51 pitches per PA

In contrast, we’ve praised Brett Lawrie’s exhibition of confidence and patience at the plate during his short stint at the Major League level, not only laying off bad pitches, but also pitches in the strike zone that he can’t make optimal contact on, which is evidenced by the 4.25 pitches he’s seeing in every plate appearance.

As would be expected, after the 2009 season, pitchers began approaching Lind differently. In his successful first full season, four seam fastballs comprised 51.7% of the pitches that he saw. In 2010, that number dropped to 42.2%, and this season it’s fallen all the way to 37.9%.

We often write, somewhat abstractly, about successful hitters adjusting their approach at the plate to meet new challenges. There are few better examples than Jose Bautista who began this season seeing far fewer fastballs than he did during his break out year. Instead of flailing away, he exhibited an increased ability to drive change ups for home runs.

Lind, on the other hand has not adjusted. Over the last three seasons, the most often used breaking pitch against Lind has been the slider, which from left handed pitchers has been especially cruel to the Blue Jays first baseman. Let’s take a look at the overall use of the slider against Lind and how he’s responded each season:

  • 2009 – 13.9% of the pitches he sees, 50.1% swing rate, 12.2% whiff rate.
  • 2010 – 12.9% of the pitches he sees, 57.3% swing rate, 17.3% whiff rate.
  • 2011 – 15.5% of the pitches he sees, 62.5% swing rate, 18.0% whiff rate.

Lind is seeing less fastballs and more breaking pitches, but swinging even more. That’s a recipe for disaster. However, we saw a glimmer of hope for one month of this season, and even though sliders accounted for 17.8% of the pitches he saw in June, his swing rate was 10% lower than the rest of the season on his Achilles pitch. It’s no coincidence that Lind’s most successful month came during the same 30 day period in which he saw the most pitches.

The timing of Blue Jays manager John Farrell’s recent comments in favour of grinding out at bats until longer games are the norm in combination with a certain addition to the coaching staff shouldn’t be lost on fans.

The free swinging approach of the Blue Jays isn’t working and a team on base percentage of .317 won’t do. The struggling Lind has been the biggest culprit when it comes to a lack of quality at bats, and it’s made all the more maddening by seeing what the player is capable of when he’s not wasting his swings on bad pitches. I think Triple A hitting coach Chad Mottola spending the final month of the season with the big club is a sign of the direction that this team will be taking in the future.

After all, I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that Las Vegas led the Pacific Coast League in on base percentage this year.

With rumblings of potential interest in Prince Fielder, Lind’s future on the team may be in question this coming off season. While two years of reckless swinging and bad results don’t speak much in his favour, every once in a while we see how hard he’s capable of turning on a fastball. However, Lind does himself no favours by swinging at breaking pitches he can’t make good contact on. In order to find success, Lind must go deeper into counts and force the pitcher to use a fastball to make a strike. A change in hitting coaches could stand to benefit him more than any other player in the Blue Jays lineup.