Saturday, 8 June 2013

Who Are You and What Have You Done With Adam Lind?

This man claims to be Adam Lind. I'm not so sure...

I've always been torn when it comes to my belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life forms.  I find it hard to believe that in the infinite vastness of the universe intelligent life doesn't exist somewhere.  However, most reports of human contact with aliens are somewhat less than credible and, having never had such an experience myself I've found it hard to fully commit to belief.  I guess I think it's probable that they exist, but am skeptical that they have visited Earth.  Or at least I used to be...

I watched Men In Black II last night, and have now spent the afternoon watching Adam Lind collect 4 hits and a walk against Yu Darvish and the Rangers, and I think I have finally been convinced that aliens do indeed exist.  I have concluded that, much like in Men In Black, the Adam Lind-like life form we have been observing for the first 2 months of the 2013 season is no longer the Adam Lind we all would have gladly fired into deep space these past three seasons.  Rather, it is an extraterrestrial visitor that has taken human form, impersonating Adam Lind in order to live and work among us.  It's a clever plan really.  You can hide in plain sight, and if you're an alien visitor to Earth you can do worse than the lifestyle of a Major League ballplayer.  The likeness is quite believable, and its plan might have even worked if not for a fatal flaw in the disguise.  It can't be Adam Lind, because Adam Lind sucks, and this alien impostor is absolutely raking.

The only other possible explanation is that Lind has completely overhauled his approach at the plate, becoming more selective on pitches both inside and outside the zone and showing a willingness to take a walk that has been completely absent for the previous three seasons.  

I'll leave it up to you to determine which is the more likely scenario.  In the meantime, let's examine the evidence shall we?

So far this season, Adam Lind is hitting .331/.413/.521.  For some perspective, that is 62 points over his career batting average, 91 points over his career OBP, and 58 points over his career slugging.  If he qualified, his .398 wOBA would rank 9th in the league and would lead DHs in this category.  His 156 wRC+ would be 10th in the league and also lead DHs.  So he hasn't just been good for Adam Lind.  He's been one of the best hitters in baseball, when he plays at least.  But, if he's been one of the best hitters going, why isn't he getting every day plate appearances?

Well, this is where John Gibbons deserves a great deal of credit for Lind's success so far this season.  Gibbons has largely shielded the left handed hitting Lind from left handed pitching.  Lind has had only 15 PAs against them this season.  You might look at his gaudy .542 wOBA and 250 wRC+ and think that he's earned more chances against lefty pitching, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  For his career, Lind has put up a .272 wOBA and a 62 wRC+.  Barf!  15 PAs is far too small a sample size to overcome such a consistent history of suckiness against same handed pitching over 770 career PAs.  Him being shielded from left handed pitching can't explain it all, as he's also been outperforming his career numbers against righties.

So what has he been doing differently?

Well as I alluded to earlier, he has been far more disciplined at the plate.  His BB% has skyrocketed to 19.2% after a career rate of 7.1%, and his K% is down to 16.8% from his career rate of 19.2%.  What he hasn't been doing is hitting for a ton of power.  In comparison to his career year of 2009, he has an ISO of .190 as opposed to .250, but is getting on base significantly more often to compensate, and making fewer outs is always a good thing.

One need only look at his plate discipline numbers to see how much more selective he has been this year.  His O-Swing% (% of swings at pitches outside the zone) is down to 23.4% from a career norm of 32.4% and his Z-Swing% (% of swings at pitches in the zone) is also down from a career 61.3% to a far pickier 53.7%.  He is also swinging less at the first pitch, just 13% instead of his career rate of 22%.  As a result, he has gotten himself into more hitter's counts this year than in the past which is perhaps what has led him to be more selective with pitches in the zones, allowing him to let marginal pitches go that he might pop up or roll over on in a pitcher's count.

This is reflected in the dramatic decrease in the number of infield fly balls he has hit this year, as it can serve as a sort of statistical proxy for quality of contact.  His IFFB% is down to 2.3% from a career rate of 7.6%.  Since infield fly balls are second only to strikeouts as sure outs, this is just one more way in which Adam Lind is refusing to get out in 2013.

To conclude, it appears as though it all starts with better plate discipline for the man who once said "I think the walk is a little overrated".  By swinging at fewer first pitches and pitches outside the zone, Lind has gotten himself into more hitters counts than previously in his career.  This, in turn, has allowed him to be more selective with pitches in the zone, allowing him to make better contact when he does swing.  It appears as though he might be sacrificing a bit of home run power for the sake of spraying line drives to all fields, but Lind has always had power to spare.  Where he's struggled mightily is in avoiding outs, but if he can keep on getting on base at this rate I believe the power will come along as well.  Even if it doesn't, I'm a lot happier with this alien impostor Lind than with the human version that socked a few dingers but made outs 70% of the time.  I hope he sticks around now that I've blown his cover...

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