Adam Lind stroked a pair of 3-run homers against the hapless Minnesota Twins in game 2 of their series. The Jays won 11-2; it was their second win of the series, their 4th straight series win, and their 9th win in 12 games. They swept Minny with a 2-0 shutout today, meaning that since their low point–7 straight losses, including a series loss to HOU–they’ve played very well. One can’t even mitigate their success by saying that they’re beating September call-ups: 3 of the 4 series they’ve won have been against teams still in the hunt (NYY; KCR; ARI). It’s their hottest streak since they won 11 in a row, and Adam Lind has contributed.
Dollars and Sense
It was great to see him do it and it was great to see them win, but what is the long-term value of that game? According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/al-east/toronto-blue-jays/), the Toronto Blue Jays have 3 options on Adam Lind’s services, running from 2014 through to 2016: his salary will increase ($7MM–$7.5MM–$8MM) but his buyout is cut in half each year ($2MM–$1MM–$0.5MM). Okay, that’s great, but baseball is a game with a business angle. This is the business angle, what about the other stuff? I’m glad you asked.
The big game (2 HR, 6 RBI) put his traditional stats at 19 HR (respectable) and 54 RBI (lame), but RBI are a team stat so let’s look elsewhere for meaning. Fangraphs tells me that his 1.6 fWAR is 4th on the Jays (http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=&ind=0&team=14&players=0), 15th among 35 MLB 1B with at least 300 PA, and it’s the 2nd best mark of his career. I don’t know which one of those three statements is saddest.
Seriously though, is it as bad as all that? We all know that he’s no Chris Davis or Joey Votto: we didn’t expect it of him and he hasn’t delivered. Fair enough. But did you know that Prince Fielder has accumulated 1.6 fWAR, ranking him even with Adam Lind? Did you also know that Adam Lind is (comfortably) ahead of such high-paid 1B as Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Adam LaRoche, and Justin Morneau? If you don’t believe me, click here: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=1b&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=300&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0. See, I wasn’t pulling your leg.
Traditionally the corner infield positions, and especially first base, are for players who produce offensively. First base is a position with limited defensive responsibility, but mammoth offensive responsibility. A similar thing can be said about Designated Hitters, except a DH has no defensive responsibility. Adam Lind fits best in one of these two positions. That said, he’s neither the best 1B nor the best DH on the team. Currently, Edwin Encarnacion ranks 4th in MLB among 1B with at least 300 PA. As we mentioned above, Lind ranks 15th in MLB. Lind ranks 6th in MLB among DH (300 PA); Edwin ranks 2nd in MLB.
Adam Lind’s defense (-2.8) is slightly below the league average at 1B, as is his base running (-1.3). Not only are these categories less significant than offensive production (given the position he plays), but, at slightly below average, he’s not a boat anchor at 1B either. Comparing these figures to someone like Prince Fielder (-6.5 Fld and -3.8 BsR, respectively) is illuminating, but needs interpretation. Adam Lind’s limited offense (Fielder’s triple crown stats are presently 22/97/.274, and his triple slash is .274/.360/.448) requires that he play better at 1B and run the bases better in order to narrow the gap between himself and the upper echelon of first basemen.
But does that gap really need to be narrowed? Probably not. Adam Lind is a serviceable 1B/DH with decent power who puts the bat on the ball with decent consistency (.318 BABIP), who doesn’t embarrass himself or the team at 1B. If we assume about $5.5MM/WAR, Adam Lind is right on target to be worth it for the Jays to pick up the $7MM option on his contract for 2014. There’s even a little surplus value on that contract, since a 1.3 WAR player is worth $7MM. Lind is on pace to produce 1.7 fWAR this season. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s his best year since his career year in 2009.
On the One Hand…
Let’s consider some other factors in order to get a more complete picture. First, Lind has a troubling history of back problems. He’s missed a dozen-and-a-half games this year, partly because of these back issues. Back issues affect everything, including swinging a bat. You can forget swinging a bat with authority.
Second, he’s 30. According to the generally-held belief, he’s on the downside of his prime years (27-31). He hasn’t done much to this point in his career except one season when he was 26, which looks more and more like an outlier (2009). He spent most of 2009 as a DH.
Third, his peak value in 7 seasons of 88 games or more has been 3.4 fWAR (2009). 2013 represents his second highest value (1.6 fWAR), while the cumulative value of the other 5 seasons is -0.5 fWAR, based on totals of 0.4, 0.0, -1.0, 0.1, and 0.0. (His 4.9 career total is achieved by including the 18-game/+0.4 sample in his first call-up).
That level of consistent non-production is truly astonishing. The Jays have been loyal and patient with him as he’s tried to carve a niche for himself in MLB. Patience and loyalty have there limits though. His play was so miserable that the Jays outrighted him to AAA Las Vegas on May 31, 2012 and no one else claimed him. Everybody knew that he wasn’t worth $5MM. After all, why would you claim a player who makes it easier for your own team to win when he’s an opponent?
But On the Other Hand…
This isn’t Fred McGriff, the All Star 1B who was included in one of the most important trades in Blue Jay history. If Adam Lind was to be traded, the return wouldn’t likely be an All Star. That means that even though they’re producing a similar level of value for their teams, DET isn’t trading Prince Fielder for Adam Lind straight up. That said, there’s slight surplus value in Adam Lind’s contract, while Prince Fielder’s $23MM behemoth is an enormous overpay. He should be producing about 4.2 WAR—Edwin Encarnacion levels—to make that contract a decent value. Then there are the next 7 seasons to consider as Prince declines…
The free agent market for 1B isn’t very inspiring either (http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2012/02/2014-mlb-free-agents.html). There are some well-known players available, but some are likely to re-sign with their present team (e.g. Kendrys Morales), some have significant injury issues of their own (e.g. Mike Napoli), or don’t represent an upgrade over Adam Lind (most of the rest). All-in-all, the Jays might be better off picking up Lind’s option than going and spending more on someone who probably won’t deliver any more but will cost more.
That said, the Jays have a significant trend in the recent past that needs to be considered. Two players, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, have turned into All Star calibre players on the down side of 30. They’ve also maintained a high level of production after their initial breakout season.
Will Adam Lind enjoy this type, if not this level, of success? You’ll have to excuse me: my crystal ball is in my other jacket. The indication is that he’s improved marginally to the point where a repeat of this year’s production makes his option a decent one. Is that enough to help propel the Jays to greater things?