Toronto Blue Jays 2012 Expectations Revisited: Brett Lawrie

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Before the start of the 2012 MLB season, I put together a series of performance “forecasts” for the projected starters for the Toronto Blue Jays. Now, with the long season well behind the team, here’s a look back at how the players did compared to my projections – which is another way of saying let’s see how much I messed them up. Today, we’ll move on to the hot corner with a review of Brett Lawrie‘s 2012.

There’s no easy way to put it: Lawrie was a disappointment in 2012.

You could probably say it was inevitable, given how the Blue Jays’ third baseman of the future lit up the league upon his arrival as a 21-year old, putting up an eye-popping .293/.373/.580 over 171 PA. Needless to say, expectations were high for Lawrie this season – and the expectations were largely unmet.

Lawrie accumulated 2.7 fWAR over 43 games in ’11. In 2012, that number sat at 2.9 with 125 games played, good for 11th in the league (among 18 full-season qualifiers). The back end of the middle of the pack wasn’t where many of us expected Lawrie to be at the end of last season, and much of it has to do with injury issues that plagued his second half of ’12.

Although Lawrie didn’t get off to a particularly great start (.704 OPS in April), he had slowly rounded into the mid-season form that resembled more like the Lawrie we saw last year by June, hitting 4 homers and 9 doubles in 124 PA with a .884 OPS. Perhaps part of the surge was extra motivation from his four-game suspension at the end of May for throwing a helmet that happened to take an unfortunate bounce. Whatever it was, it took Lawrie’s game to the next level: he barely struck out (8.1% K%), and showed an improved batting eye (0.90 BB/K).

Unfortunately, a back injury put an end to that surge in July, follow by an oblique injury that Lawrie tried to come back from too early–to the point where he may have misled the team’s staff on the severity of the injury–in August. Given how long obliques take to heal, based on the cases of players like of Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman, it was really no surprise that Lawrie was largely ineffective upon his return to the lineup in early September as he put up a poor .237/.315/.361 triple-slash over his final 109 PA.

So, was 2012 a season lost to injury? Largely, but not entirely. Even prior to his injury, Lawrie’s ability to draw walks had already shown decline from his 9.4% walk rate in ’11: he walked in 5.1% of his appearances in April and just 3.1% in May, numbers that are well below average for his position. He is also hitting more ground balls to the infield compared to his stint last season, which led to more outs, even though his contact rate remained quite good.

I wrote before the season that “the .287 ISO is going to take the biggest hit in 2012, I think, as will the 17% HR/FB ratio. I’m certainly not ready to predict 31 home runs for Lawrie over 600 PA (his pace in 2011); being an everyday player for 150+ games at this level is a big, tough adjustment to make.” I’d played it somewhat conservatively in regards to the power numbers, but Lawrie’s power-sapping injury troubles still made my predictions far too optimistic:

My 2012 forecast610 PA, .280/.340/.490, 20 HR, 22 SB
Lawrie in 2012: 536 PA, .273/.324/.405, 11 HR, 13 SB

“The more I look at them, the more I want to bring things down a notch or two” was what I told myself when I made the predictions, and it turns out I should have listen to my inner skeptic then. I didn’t think Lawrie would put up the numbers he did in ’11 over a full season, but to go from that to a .729 OPS is a pretty steep decline. He also took a step back in the base-stealing department, getting caught eight times out of 21 attempts.

The positive–because it’s just too hard to stay negative on the guy–is that Lawrie remained solid defensively, despite his troubles at the plate; and, at just 22-years old, there’s plenty of time for him to make the adjustments for 2013. He’s still very talented and his month-long streak in June of last year shows that he has the ability to play a big part in the Blue Jays’ revamped offense next season.

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