Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie came into 2012 with sky-high expectations of him being one of the very best third baseman in the game, after he was exactly that over 43 games in a 2.7 fWAR cup of tea in 2011.
Those expectations were not met. In fact, unless you consider a 224 point drop in OPS to be progress, Lawrie was a disappointment at the plate last season.
His defensive skills were still surpringly good, but the power wasn’t there (11 homers in 536 PA), and he was a poor runner on the basepaths, getting caught stealing 38.1 percent of the time, and that’s not including other less-than-intelligent running plays that weren’t considered stolen bases.
Lawrie was at times frustrated, boneheaded, overmatched – in short, he looked like a young player struggling to catch up to the game over 2012.
But, he was still a 2.9 fWAR player in his age-22 season.
The good news is that after his first taste of disappointment, the uber-skilled young third baseman is now in an ideal situation to succeed in 2013. That’s largely because the Blue Jays are in the same position, having revamped its starting rotation almost entirely, while adding player players like Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to the lineup.
Last year, this was a team that couldn’t help itself from unraveling due to injuries. Going into 2013, they’ll be the on-paper favourites to win the AL East.
That kind of competitive drive is the perfect motivation for Lawrie, whose all-out, 120-percent style has made him a fan favourite in Toronto since he arrived.
The 23-year old will be driven to not only redeem his offensive performance from 2012, but he’ll be driven to help this lineup get to the post-season, and the improvements around him should take the extra pressure off him to be one of the primary performers on the team.
To succeed, Lawrie will have to pound the ball into the ground a whole lot less than he did in 2012.
His bat is still very quick, and he actually showed improved his contact rate last year, but he did see an extra diet of off-speed pitches (12.9 percent sliders in 2011, compared to 17 in 2012) which may have led to the increased ground balls (38.1 percent to 50.2) to the infield (8.9 percent to 9.7).
That said, his line drive rate actually improved last season (16.9 percent to 20.0), which suggests that he’s still hitting the ball well when it’s not grounded. It’s no surprise that June of 2012, Lawrie’s best month (.884 OPS), was also the month that he hit the fewest ground balls (43.7 percent).
Was Lawrie pressing to make contact on every at-bat last season, instead of looking for pitches he can really attack? Possibly, considering he was looked at as one of the main contributors in the lineup. That won’t be the case in 2013, which means there’s less emphasis on the 23-year old having to try to make something happen each time he’s up.
The change could result in the best Lawrie that the Blue Jays have seen yet.