Toronto Blue Jays v Kansas City Royals

The Blue Jays have about two dozen questions to answer this off-season. One of the most disappointing clubs in baseball entered the season with such high hopes, only to see it all crash around them. Their season was effectively finished by Memorial Day (Victoria Day in Canada), no matter how much hope their 11 game win streak gave Jays fans.

There is still plenty of talent around the diamond, as the Jays have good to great players in Colby Rasmus, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista set to return next season. The pitching couldn’t possibly be worse than it’s been this year, so they have that going for them (which is good.) As David Ortiz told the Toronto Star this week “I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they come back and just whoop everybody’s ass, to be honest with you.”

One question must answer starts with their designated hitter and part-time first baseman, Adam Lind. What is to become of the 2009 AL Silver Slugger? The Jays have to ask some tough questions before they ultimately make a decision on his 2014 contract option.

The contract extension Adam Lind signed in April 2010 gave the Jays a ton of flexibility, as it included options for his 2014, 2015, and 2016 seasons. The option for his 2014 season is a reasonable one, just $7MM with a $2MM buyout. The buyout is key as it all but ensures the team picks up the option. Finding a player of Adam Lind’s equal would cost more than the $5 million difference between his buyout and salary.

Wait, is that actually true – finding a better player than Lind would cost that much? Just how good is Adam Lind? Or, more to the point, how bad is Adam Lind?

The answer might surprise you as it is pretty much “neither.” Adam Lind is not particularly good but isn’t exactly bad either. Thanks for reading, have a great weekend!

Everything about Adam Lind is average. His career wRC+ is 105 (100 is league average), though that includes his breakout season when he posted a 140 wRC+. This season, Lind is swinging it well again, putting up a 120 wRC+ and .351 wOBA. That wOBA ranks him fifth (if you don’t consider Joe Mauer a DH, which you should not) among DHs with 300 PAs this year.

But there is more than this year to consider. The 2012 version of Adam Lind didn’t look so miserable, putting up a .316 wOBA – same as his 2011 campaign. Most of Lind’s 2012 numbers came in a six week spurt in which he posted a .850 OPS before going down with a back injury.

There is also less than this year to consider. Adam Lind was a monster over the first half of the 2013 season but has faltered of late, hitting just .185/.279/.323 since July 1st. So which is the real Adam Lind? Hint: this streaky hitter is the real Adam Lind.

A little device I like to use from time-to-time (ex. Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, and the Pedro Alvarez trilogy 1/2/3) is creating a “rolling 10 day” wOBA for a player using their game logs and Fangraphs Guts for wOBA components. I find it a good way to visualize the peaks and valleys over a given player’s season(s). You don’t have to love/know about/care about wOBA to understand it is a way to measure production. Graphing out this way demonstrates when a player is production compared to when he is not.

What do Adam Lind’s short outpourings of competence over the last two years look like using this method? Just as advertised: peaks and valleys.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The red lines represent league-average wOBA for 2012/2013, though it is worth noting league average for a DH is actually .334 and a first baseman is .333. In both cases, Lind has his moments of above-averagedom but also his weeks mired in the pits of despair. All players will experience slumps and periods when everything clicks. The difference between a good player and an average player is the relative size of each.

Earlier this year, Lind provide some nebulous explanations for his run of good play, from health to a new “90%” swing. But since that interview ran on Fangraphs (mid June) Lind has returned to the same old hitter he always was – his swinging strike rate for the season is back to his career norms. He’s swinging at fewer pitches than last season but missing more. During his recent slump, Lind is swinging and missing a ton and chasing more pitches out of the strike zone.

So which Lind is which? I think the full body of Adam Lind’s work speaks for itself – he is about a league average hitter with some pop. He’s not the worst DH but he’s probably replaceable. But by who and for how much, we must ask?

Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, Mike Morse are three names that jump off the Cot’s Contracts potential free agent list, though to consider them upgrades stretches the word a bit.

The slight difference between the buyout price for Lind and the actual salary for the Jays first baseman makes the 2014 decision an easy one. It also makes reducing him to a platoon player (which his .553 OPS all but assures he is) a viable option for the Jays, should they seek out a third 1B/DH type to work with Lind and Encarnacion. Unfortunately, using three players to fill the two spots on your roster with the lowest barrier for entry isn’t a good use of assets.

The decisions get easier for 2015 and 2016 as his base salary grows while the buyout amounts shrink. The book on Adam Lind isn’t going to change – he can get red hot and look the part of a world-beater then cool down and create a black hole in the lineup for weeks at a time. The end results are fine, but are they good enough for a team desperate to get something out of their biggest payroll commitment in two decades?

Information from Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and ESPN Stats & Info