Two tidbits from Jays camp. Farrell says he’d like to see Johnson bat second, behind Escobar and in front of Bautista/Lind.
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) February 21, 2012
As we all know, spring is the time of hollow debate and manufactured outrage. Moving Ichiro! out of the leadoff spot? Outrage! Tim Lincecum left a bullpen session early with a stiff back? Outrage! The Jays want to continue hitting Adam Lind cleanup? OUTRAGE!
There probably isn’t enough outrage about the last point. Adam Lind isn’t really a very good hitter. Blue Jays fans love pointing to the hot stretches here and there as proof he can still swing a mean stick but, sadly, that don’t make it so. Career years are allowed and encouraged. They are the exception to the rule, we must remember. One season does not make a new baseline for production.
Since his career year in 2009, Adam Lind owns a .316 wOBA. A below-average 92 OPS+. 250 strikeouts against just 70 walks in nearly 1200 plate appearances. And yet here are the Blue Jays, saying he remains their cleanup hitter. How could this be?
It isn’t as though the Jays don’t have a better option to slide into the spot. Modern baseball orthodoxy suggests hitting your very best & most powerful hitter fourth due to increased opportunities to drive in runs/not hit with two outs and nobody on base.
The entire situation is eerily similar to the conundrum facing the Jays last offseason. The team needed to figure you how best to use Jose Bautista while still getting the most out of former cleanup hitter Vernon Wells.
Via some deft Reaginomics, Wells went to Anaheim while Jose Bautista continued his torrid slugging from the three hole. Wells was (and is) a poor fit in the clean up spot but he’s most comfortable in that slot (or so we’re told.) With Wells breaking records in Los Angeles, the job fell to Lind.
As outlined above, this isn’t ideal for Adam Lind or the Blue Jays. Mostly because Adam Lind isn’t much of a hitter. He offers no protection in the traditional, baloney, sense of the word. He also offers a gigantic waste of Jose Bautista’s on base prowess.
By hitting Jose Bautista third in the order, the Blue Jays ensure one thing: the greatest percentage of his at bats come with two out and nobody on. More than 10% of Bautista’s plate appearances came in that very situation, the most of all possible combinations. Lind, hitting fourth behind Bautista, came to the plate with two outs in the first inning nearly 9.5% of the time. Many times, he did so with Jose Bautista standing on first base or in the dugout after doing Jose Bautista things (Thirty walks and six home runs in 2011 opening frames.)
It isn’t news that Adam Lind is something of a mess, or hurt, or whatever. Inserting him squarely into the center of the lineup is just wasteful, full stop. No matter how many numbers we pour over, nothing is going to jump up and suggest this is a good spot for a hitter who never really walks that much and has occasional “ran into a fastball” power. Full stop.
The team can talk about showing support for Lind and wanting to keep him comfortable (though he expressed his reservations about moving to the cleanup spot ahead of the 2010 season. Now he can’t have it any other way?) If the concern is winning games, moving Lind away from Bautista is the play. Getting Bautista more chances to drive in runs should also be the play.
How can the Jays best maximize the incredible power/patience combination Jose Bautista offers? With two players expected to get on base reasonably well (Escobar & Johnson) hitting one-two, a quick strike power hitter like Edwin Encarnacion might slot nicely into the third spot.
Bautista hits fourth, where innings are extended and/or multi-run homers are jolted. There are R/L concerns at play but, really, this is more about stubbornly keeping Lind locked into the cleanup spot. If Jose wants to stay third (like Pujols, for instance) then fine. Let him do what he wants.
Just let somebody — anybody — else hit after the Jays best hitter. There are too many run-scoring opportunities squandered with a hitter like Lind in the fourth spot. Even when he’s right, he isn’t right for this job.