For all that has gone right in the early part of 2016 for the Seattle Mariners, it’s almost easy to overlook one aspect that has been less than savory: Adam Lind‘s performance at the plate. While his platoon partner, Dae-Ho Lee, has been hitting home runs and quickly becoming a fan favorite, Lind has scuffled his way to what’s easily been the worst start of his 11-year career.
Normally when a player struggles early on in the season we’ll hear the usual responses as to why it could be: it’s early, it’s a new team, it’s a new league, he’s faced an unusually tough stretch of pitching, bad luck, BABIP, and so on. Some of those are, in fact, applicable to Lind’s situation. He’s on a new team in a new league and is playing out of a ballpark that is notoriously tougher on hitters than pitchers.
The other new aspect of Lind’s situation may well be one of the biggest factors in Lind’s struggles: his role. The 32-year-old hasn’t strictly been a part-time or platoon player before. He was heavily protected from left-handers in 2014, but missed parts of the season with injuries making it an unusual season for him to begin with.
Since becoming a full-time major leaguer with the Toronto Blue Jays back in mid-2008, Lind has been exactly that, a full-time player. He was acquired by the Mariners to be the left side of a first base platoon. This only made sense given Lind’s career splits — he’s been one of the better hitters against right-handed pitching in recent years, but he’s been atrocious against left-handers.
So far in 2016, things haven’t gone as predicted for the former Silver Slugger award winner. In 93 plate appearances primarily against right-handed pitching, he’s posted a .213/.237/.270 slash line with a 38 wRC+. He’s hit one home run and a total of three extra-base hits. His .281 BABIP is about 20 points lower than his career average so it’s not as simple as he’s hitting the ball to the wrong places.
The lack of offensive production is reflected in his 3.2 percent walk and 26.9 percent strikeout rates, both are well off his career marks. Aside from the alarming declines in plate discipline skills, there are a few other red flags to note. Lind’s swing rate at pitches outside of the zone sits at a 39.4 percent rate compared to a 31.4 percent rate for his career. He’s also making less contact on what he’s swinging at, with a 72.0 percent contact rate so far this year compared to a career 80.6 percent mark.
These numbers are reflected in a spiked whiff rate of 14.3 percent, his highest since 2010 and 2011’s 10.7 percent marks. All told, it makes sense why Lind is struggling; he’s chasing more pitches and not making enough contact — a recipe for an increased strikeout rate. Interestingly enough his hard-hit rate reflects his career norms, however he’s seen his rate of medium contact decrease and soft contact increase.
At 32, Lind could be experiencing some age-related decline. Between 2013 and 2015 he’s seen his soft contact rate increase and hard contact rate decrease each year, but only by a couple percentage points overall. The sharp increase in soft contact so far in 2016 comes at the expense of medium contact and is the real area of concern, but makes sense given the current batted-ball profile.
While I’m willing to accept that Lind’s best days are behind him, I don’t buy that he’s a .200 hitter going forward. On the surface his struggles appear to have more to do with the adjustments in becoming a platoon player and he simply hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm yet.
This isn’t any kind of revelation in so far as it’s difficult for players who don’t play regularly to have consistent success. The same goes for players making a transition, such as when we talked last year about Nelson Cruz making the change to more or less full-time designated hitter duties from playing everyday in the field. These adjustments take time, and I have little doubt that Lind is still trying to figure out how to make the platoon role work for himself.
A bright spot during the season for the left-hander was a stretch of games between April 19 and 23 where he posted a 186 wRC+. In 19 plate appearances over four starts and a two at-bat pinch-hit outing, he picked-up eight hits including one double and one walk. If we extend the sample to April 25 to give Lind a full week of full-time action, we end up with a 94 wRC+. Still below league average, but an improvement on his season mark.
There’s another stretch at the beginning of May where Lind started five consecutive games only to go 2-for-17 with one walk and five strikeouts, so it’s not as if regular playing time immediately results in production. However, until Lind is able to receive a few streaks of consistent playing time — yes, that may include facing a couple left-handers — I don’t think he’ll be able to settle in and produce as he’s capable of.
This is why I propose that the Mariners give Lind another stretch or two of regular starter-quantity playing time over the next month. Perhaps the club’s trip to the hitter-friendly Camden Yards in Baltimore next week would be a good start.
Naturally this is much easier said than done. Giving a struggling player more at-bats is counter intuitive. Especially when Lee is doing his thing against left-handers pitchers. Also, despite the fact Lind is a good hitter with a track record, he isn’t Robinson Cano and should only be extended so much benefit of the doubt. Depending on how Cruz and the DH are used on a given day, it’s possible to have both first basemen in the lineup on a given day.
So far this year, Lind has actually hit left-handed pitchers well. He has four hits in 13 plate appearances including his only home run of the year, hit off Houston Astros’ reliever Tony Sipp. This isn’t a sample size that should be taken particularly meaningfully, and let’s not pretend that Lind is about to become a left-masher either. However, plenty of in-game managerial decisions are based off individual batter-pitcher match-ups, which typically carry similar sample sizes.
Lind is a good enough hitter that he’s capable of facing lefties a few times here and there. While it isn’t ideal, the left-hander did face a lefty on Opening Day for the simple reason of having him in the first lineup of the season. The coaching staff realizes he’s not a complete black hole against same-handed pitching.
Barring some kind of mechanical change or health-related factor that we are unaware of, the best thing to get Lind going is to let him play with more consistency.