What's Behind Adam Lind's Hot Start?
Let's give Blue Jays manager John Gibbons some credit for putting Adam Lind in the best possible position to succeed. Gibbons was blowing hot air during spring training when he repeated -- on multiple occasions -- that Lind would be an everyday player this season. It was clearly a calculated play on Gibbons' behalf to not disrupt any confidence Lind was entering the year with. As with all players, confidence is a huge part of the equation when it comes to achieving success.
Lind was coming off a dreadful 2012 season in which his struggles made it more apparent than ever that he should not be in the lineup with a left-hander on the hill -- he simply hasn't shown an ability to hit lefties since his career year in 2009. From 2010-12, Lind's .226 wOBA vs. left-handers was the lowest mark in baseball among qualified hitters. Managers can only alter the game in so many ways and orchestrating a lineup is one of them, so Gibbons should be praised for finally making Lind a platoon player. It should have happened a long time ago.
The reality, though, is that Gibbons can't bat for Lind. After hitting rock bottom last season, when he was optioned to the minor leagues and placed on waivers, Lind has returned to Toronto a different hitter. We can give hitting coach Chad Mottola, who also worked with Lind when he was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas last season, a fist bump, too, but Lind is the real one who deserves the applause here.
Let's jump into some of the things that have helped Lind flourish at the plate this season.
NOT FACING LEFT-HANDERS
This is the biggest factor. Not to take anything away from Lind's .323/.410/.526 slash line, but only 11 of his 156 plate appearances have come against lefties. It's important for the people who have jumped back on the Adam Lind train to remember this. If Gibbons was inserting Lind's name into the lineup every day, which would put him up against left-handers, and some tough ones at that, it's highly unlikely Lind's numbers would read the same way. And that's fine, a lot of talented players struggle against same-sided pitchers -- this isn't something unique to Lind.
Lind's sample against lefties this season, regardless of his .364/.364/.818 line, is too small to be optimistic about. He's a career .222/.266/.350 hitter over 766 career plate appearances vs. southpaws.
But, should Lind's current confidence and success at the plate against righties lead to more at-bats vs. lefties? Not so fast.
Just because Lind is mashing righties this season doesn't mean he is going to change his fortunes against left-handers or deserves to face them. Having said that, with the way he is swinging, there probably shouldn't be an uproar if Gibbons gets him in there from time to time -- especially if he can exploit a reverse split, a la Joe Maddon vs. Ricky Romero.
Lind has roughly 50 to 100 fewer plate appearances than the qualified leaders in batting average and that's because he has been shielded from southpaws. So take that .323 average with a grain of salt.
One can safely assume that Lind's impressive plate discipline goes hand in hand with the fact he is sitting against lefties. Nonetheless, his higher walk rate and lower strikeout rate are some of the main reasons he's swinging the way he is.
Breakdown of Lind's BB/K rate over the years
2013: 13.5%, 16%
2012: 8.2%, 17.3%
2011: 5.9%, 19.7%
2010: 6.2%, 23.5%
2009: 8.9%, 16.8%
CAREER: 7.1%, 19.2%
BB/K rate vs. RHP
2013: 14.5%, 14.5%
2012: 8.9%, 17.1%
2011: 6.9%, 18.1%
2010: 7.1%, 19.1%
2009: 9.9%, 13.5%
CAREER: 7.7%, 17.2%
As we can see, Lind is not only showing improvement overall, he's walking more and striking out less against right-handers than he has in the past. Lind is walking at a career-high rate, and striking out less frequently than ever before. That's a very good combination and can be attributed to Lind being more selective at the plate.
Here's what the Pitchf/x data at Fangraphs.com tells us:
Lind's swing rate -- the total percentage of pitches a batter swings at -- is easily at a career-low mark, at 36.7%. Last season it was 44% and in 2011 is was a career high 50.1%. This is the first season that Lind has swung at less than 43% of the pitches he has seen. Not surprisingly, he is swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone, too.
The 29-year-old is swinging at 23% of pitches outside the zone after a mark of 30.4% and 36.4% over the last two years, respectively. For his career, that mark is 32.4%. Lind is doing a better job swinging at pitches he can handle than chasing a pitcher's pitch. This makes a major difference and may help explain, along with the fact he is sitting vs. southpaws, his .362 BABIP, which is .65 points higher than his career mark of .297. If a hitter is constantly chasing stuff out of the zone, he is less likely to make good contact. He might make some contact, but the chances of him driving the ball and doing much with the pitch are greatly diminished.
Lind is doing a better job at working the count, and Baseball-reference.com tells us that he's only swinging at 13% of the first pitches he sees, which is easily the lowest mark of his career. For context, his career mark is 22%.
His new-found approach, and the fact he isn't facing lefties probably helps explain why 10.9% of Lind's plate appearances are ending with an extra-base hit -- his best mark since his breakout 2009 season.
Lind is also spraying the ball to all fields, which is one thing Mottola said in spring training would be a key for him this year. Of Lind's 43 hits this season, 28 of them have been hit up the middle or the other way. The ESPN hot zone graphic below shows how well Lind has handled the middle and outer-half of the zone against right-handers this year.
Better plate discipline and sitting against lefties, both of which can likely be tied together, are the factors behind Lind's excellent season. His robust numbers may drop, but Lind has always hit right-handers well.
The interesting thing to watch will be whether Gibbons believes Lind's success against righties has warranted him more playing time vs. left-handers, his kryptonite. If he does, it could be setting them both up to fail.
[Hot Zone graphs courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information Group]