How Adam Lind Has Become One of Baseball's Best Hitters
Most of the hot waiver wire pickups this week make sense. Yasiel Puig may not be the second coming of early-2011 Matt Kemp, but you can never really know, can you? As Jim explained last Friday, Twins catcher/outfielder Ryan Doumit has been on a hot streak of late, so he's good by me. And Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna should be seeing everyday action in Miami that should make him one of the most productive members of the team (although to be fair, that's not difficult).
But Puig and Ozuna are young guys, and Doumit's only batting .234 overall. What we look for at numberFire is those outliers who come out of nowhere, those guys with unexplainable stats, the ones who... oh, well hello there, Adam Lind. It's funny seeing you here having been picked up in 43.6 percent of leagues in the past week, isn't it?
Lind's .340 batting average and .415 on-base percentage through 179 plate appearances is clearly one of the surprises of the season thus far. Probably the most surprised are the fantasy analysts: this career .265 hitter had an average draft position of No. 363 during the preseason, not even on most fantasy guys' draft boards.
In fact, only a single site had him in the Top 180 (first 18 rounds) during the preseason. That site? Well, you're on it. And our projections still say he's worth the pickup for the rest of the season as a utility player, as long as you don't expect that .340 average to continue much longer.
It's a common analytics trope - you want guys with patience who will get on base anyway possible. Think Kevin Youkilis and Billy Beane and Brad Pitt and all that. We look for inefficiencies; we don't like common tropes. But sometimes, the easiest answer is the most simple one.
Lind has typically swung at the first pitch less than the 27 percent MLB average - in fact, a 27 percent rate in 2011 is his career high. This year, however, he's taking patience to a whole new level. Lind has swung at the first pitch on only 12 percent of his plate appearances this year, easily the lowest rate of his career. If he held enough plate appearances to qualify, that mark would be the fifth-lowest rate in the entire majors behind Joe Mauer, Juan Pierre, Dustin Pedroia, and David DeJesus.
I guess it follows then, that when you don't swing, you tend to walk a tiny bit more. Funny how that works. Lind's career-high walk rate before this season sat at 8.9 percent in 2009 (unsurprisingly, he only swung at a then-low 15 percent of first pitches that season). Now? His 12.9 percent walk rate this year shatters his former mark and would sit 14th-best in the majors if he held enough plate appearances.
Sure, sometimes Lind gets caught looking as a side effect. 38 percent of his total strikes taken this year have been looking, up from his previous 31 percent career high ratio. In addition, 39 percent of his total strikeouts have been backwards K's, up from a high of 30 percent of strikeouts in 2009. But that doesn't mean his overall strikeout rate has been effected - his 17.3 percent SO rate this year is exactly the same as last year's and still below his 19.2 percent career average. He's simply struck out less swinging to make up for the increased K's looking.
How Patience Helps Hitting
So what happens when you actually swing at pitches you want rather than wailing at anything north of the Canadian-U.S. border? You stop fearing about those strikeouts looking and actually hit harder than you ever have in your career.
Lind's long been known for his homeruns, but that's not where his increases have been this season. In fact, his current 3.4 percent homerun rate is actually below his career 4.0 percent rate and can actually be expected to increase somewhat given regression towards the mean.
Instead, Lind has been hitting line drives like, well, an above-average ballplayer. Before this season, the percentage of balls in play that Lind had hit for line drives had never topped 21 percent; his career rate sits at 20 percent. With his increased patience, though, he has been able to hit 24 percent of balls in play for line drives this season, significantly increasing his chances for success.
According to his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), it seems to have paid dividends. Lind's insanely high .387 BABIP isn't just the best of his career, it tops his previous 2009 career best by .064. If Lind had enough plate appearances to qualify, it would sit as the fifth-best mark in the majors behind some guys named Jhonny Peralta, Joe Mauer, Chris Davis, and Joey Votto.
When you hit that well on balls in play and combine it with a strikeout rate over two percent below league average, a .340 batting average only seems natural. It has all started with the patience for Lind, and that has helped his all-around hitting game.
The Future Projections
See, here's the problem. In this article, I've written the phrase "if he held enough plate appearances to qualify" about 15 times (give or take a few). That means these numbers are based off of a small sample size, and given his 3066 career plate appearances as compared to just 179 this season, it's much more statistically likely that Lind will revert to his old ways rather than continue his new ones.
In Lind's case, that may actually mean an uptick in homeruns and RBIs; his 8.5 at-bats per RBI is actually the highest such mark of his career. However, that also means that batting average is projected to head down. Way down.
Projections for the Remainder of This Season
That projected .801 OPS would still be the second-highest mark of his career as a standalone figure, and it would create a .857 season-long OPS that would absolutely dwarf his .729 mark from an injury-shortened 2012. Those 11 homeruns and 41 RBIs aren't bad numbers for the rest of the year either.
With those stats, Lind projects to be our No. 116 most valuable fantasy batter with a nF score of 1.60 (runs created by 27 outs over a replacement first baseman). He's not helped out by the fact that first base is entirely too crowded, but Lind's still worth the pickup as a backup first baseman or utility player in case of injury. And if that patience continues over the rest of the season, he has the potential to outproduce our projections by a longshot.