Adam Lind – I meant to write about Lind a few weeks ago, but then he got hurt. Still, I’d be remiss if I went through this series without discussing the topsy-turvy career of the Blue Jays’ 2004 3rd round draft pick.
Lind has destroyed pitching throughout his minor league career (he batted under .300 once (.299 in just 190 plate appearances in 2007). His career minor league line is .320/.382/.512. His career AAA numbers are even better (.333/.406/.525). It is not hard, therefore, to understand why he was always a highly touted prospect.
After dominating AAA in his first promotion, the Jays gave him a cup of coffee at the end of 2006. He didn’t disappoint (.367/.415/.600) in 65 plate appearances. He did have 12 Ks to just five walks, but there was significant cause for optimism.
Of course progression in baseball is rarely linear. What goes up often comes down. In his first extended taste of major league pitching in 2007, Lind hit just .238/.278/.400, struggling mightily against lefties (.194/.243/.299). Lind was demoted back to Syracuse in July, where he proceeded to destroy minor league pitching.
The following season, Lind flashed a little promise by hitting .282/.316/.439. That OBP, however, simply does not play for a DH masquerading as a corner outfielder/first baseman. Lind was, it seemed, destined to be a AAAA player – a guy with tremendous AAA ability who just can’t handle the Bigs.
And then 2009 happened. Over the course of the season, Lind hit .305/.370/.562 and he smacked the ball around the yard prodigiously (35 HRs and 46 doubles). He also showed tremendous improvement against lefties (.275/.318/.461). From a fantasy perspective, these numbers appeared trustworthy. While his HR/FB rate was a tad unsustainable, that merely meant he was more of a 28-30 HR guy than 35 HR guy.
Then, as the rock stars say, the bottom fell out. Lind’s 2010 season was, without a doubt, the worst of his career: .237/.287/.425 as he again struggled against lefties (.117/.159/.182). Still, he suffered some bad luck as his BABIP was somewhat in the dumps and his HR/FB rate went way back to pre-2009 rates.
However, the real culprit was a regression in his approach. After getting his swinging and missing under control in 2009, Lind was back to posting a 10+% swinging strike percentage. Obviously, his contact rate went down the tubes (tying a career low in a much bigger sample). It made Lind appear to be a platoon player who should never face lefties and who might hit just 20-25 HRs with a modest average at best. He wasn’t as bad as he was going, but the rates he had posted in 2009 seemed like the high watermark for his career.
Remember: what goes up must go down and vice versa. Lind’s 2011 season has, so far, seen a return to his 2009 potential: he is crushing lefties (.304/.340/.500) and posting a .337/.382/.614 slash line. Sure his BABIP is a bit high (.341), but he is sporting a career high 25.2% line drive rate. Even more important, his HR/FB rate has skyrocketed past 2009’s number to 23.2%. He is back to swinging and missing less and making more contact (and boy what contact!). While this is probably the best stretch of Lind’s career, I don’t think it’s a mirage. When the Astroturf settles, Lind will hit 30 HRs, and bat .300/.355/.540. He’s a great 1b option.
Brandon Morrow – Just five years ago, Morrow was the 5th overall selection by the Seattle Mariners. He started in the minors in 2006 and pitched pretty well, albeit in 32 innings. He did walk a ton of guys, but his K-rate was tantalizing.
He actually broke spring training with the club in 2007 and pitched well in relief (as well as someone can with a 7.11 BB/9 rate). He started five games in 2008, but was used mostly as a reliever. Over his 45 appearances (5 starts/40 relief), he cut the walks down and posted a 10.44 K/9 rate. Still, his massive potential (who spends a top 10 pick on a reliever) suggested he would eventually be given a real shot at the rotation. The Mariners gave him ten more starts in 2009, though they also used him in relief for another 16 other games. He was then traded to the Blue Jays for a decent relief pitcher. Whoops.
In 2010, the Blue Jays used Morrow exclusively as a starter, trotting him out to the mound 26 times throughout the season. The early returns weren’t great. In 18 first half starts, he had a 2.36 K/BB rate, 1.46 WHIP and 4.86 ERA. There was potential though. Specifically, he had 111 Ks in just 100 IPs.
In the second half, Morrow’s numbers got better. Much better. In 46.1 IPs, Morrow had a 3.53 K/BB rate, 1.21 WHIP and 3.69 ERA. He posted an incredible 13 K/9 rate. On the one hand, Morrow was doing this primarily against the AL East – the most competitive division in baseball. On the other, talent tends to be a bit diluted in the second half, with teams inflating their rosters with prospects in the hopes of separating the AAAA players from the potential future cornerstones.
In 2011, Morrow appears to be doing his best first half 2010 impression: 2.64 K/BB, 1.49 WHIP and 5.63 ERA in 54.1 IPs.
Still, his BABIP is .358 (a decent amount over his .342 number last year). He isn’t striking out fewer batters or walking more. He is struggling with a poor strand rate (60.3%) without the corresponding high HR/FB rate. Color me a Morrow believer. Now is the time to acquire him. We’ve seen him capable of putting together top 20 SP stretches. The Ks will be there regardless, his BABIP will be similar to last year and he should end with an ERA similar to last year as well. It’ll be a fun ride as he gets there.
Justin Masterson – The Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing that Masterson has going on has always made him something of a fantasy conundrum. I speak, of course, about his split personalities when it comes to batters on opposite sides of the plate. To date, Masterson has allowed a .294/.376/.430 line against lefties and has a meager 1.38 K/BB rate. Against righties, he has allowed a .224/.304/.307 line with a 2.70 K/BB rate.
For him to be anything other than a reliever, he would have to figure out lefties, right? Well, sort of, it appears.
In limited samples this year (229 plate appearances versus a lefty batter, 164 with a righty), Masterson has a 2.21 K/BB rate and allowed a .308/.357/.418 line against lefties. Somewhat shockingly, he has a 1.89 K/BB rate against righties but a .204/.305/.232 slash line allowed. This is extremely odd.
So how is Masterson being so successful (3.16 ERA, 3.20 FIP and 3.71 xFIP) relative to past years? He has a slightly better strand rate than he is used to (but it isn’t crazy out of whack). His BABIP is in line with his career numbers, even though his line drive and contact rates are up and his ground ball and swinging strike rates are down. He has been walking fewer batters than typical, but he’s also not striking out as many guys.
All of that is mostly a wash. The real advantage has been Masterson’s ability to keep the ball in play to date. He has a miniscule 3.9% HR/FB rate compared to double digits for his career. That will change and it will hurt Masterson. He’s not Matt Cain (and even Cain, who really keeps the ball in play, has never had a HR/FB rate under 5.5).
I’m not overly optimistic on Masterson going forward. I don’t think he’ll be useless, but his final line will look like a 3.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 150 Ks. Unless Masterson can get lefties out, he’ll continue to face stacked lineups (which is why he’s faced roughly 200 more lefties than righties in his career).