Tying for the second most number of votes for a full Pod Projection was Blue Jays third sacker Brett Lawrie. After sky high expectations resulting from an exciting debut that mixed power and speed, the sophomore seriously disappointed in his full season follow-up. Lawrie missed a month of action due to an oblique injury and missed time here and there due to various other nicks and bruises. You have to wonder how healthy he was all season and if those issues affected his performance. This is just another example of why projecting player performance is so difficult. We have to speculate about injuries and their effects and we may never know if we were correct.
There is no reason to apply the injury prone tag so quickly, so Lawrie gets a projection that assumes a full season of at-bats. If he was expected to hit higher up in the order, this projection might have been 600.
Contact Rate: 81% (a reminder, this is [at-bats – strikeouts] / at-bats, which differs from FG’s K%)
Lawrie posted about an 83% contact rate last year after a 79% mark during his limited sample debut in 2011. He was at 79% and 82% at Double-A and Triple-A respectively. I’m projecting a slight regression due to a slippage in his second half contact rate.
Oddly, Lawrie went from a fly ball machine during his debut to a ground ball machine the following year. At Triple-A in 2011, his batted ball profile looked a lot closer to his Blue Jays distribution that season. So it’s a head-scratcher why he decided to kill worms instead last year. I’m projecting an increase in fly ball rate based on his history, but not a significant jump considering batted ball distributions are typically quite stable.
The two expected BABIP formulas I use spit out .327 and .330, but I am not yet ready to project a mark that high just yet, especially considering his career BABIP, albeit in a small sample size, is just .312. He has posted very strong BABIP marks in the minors though and sports the ground ball rate to maintain an elevated BABIP, since he has the speed to beat out some of those grounders. He does currently hold a league average pop-up rate, so that’s the one thing right now keeping me from a higher BABIP projection like what my xBABIP formulas spit out.
HR/FB Ratio: 12%
This was a tough one. In his 2011 debut, he went gangbusters, as his minor league power breakout continued in the Majors. He posted a 17% HR/FB rate which made most assume he was a lock for at least 20 home runs this year. But shockingly, that HR/FB rate dropped to just 9%. What’s scary is that before 2011, Lawrie never hit for a ton of power. Was 2011 just a weird fluke or did injuries hamper his power output?
There is another piece of interesting data that led me to hedge my bets and project closer to his 2012 rate than 2011. In 2011, his average home run plus fly ball distance was 297 feet, which is fantastic and fully supports the high HR/FB rate. But in 2012, that distance dropped to just 265 feet! That’s well below the league average. You know who else posted similar average distances? Denard Span, Brandon Crawford, Coco Crisp and Erick Aybar. Not exactly a group of mashers. So again, how much injuries played a role in the dramatic decline in distance, I don’t know. So I’m projecting a rebound, but nowhere near to the heights of his 2011 debut.
RBI and Runs: 80 and 85
Now granted, Lawrie didn’t exactly play a full season, but I’m not sure how he only managed 48 runs batted in. That’s pretty pathetic. He’s currently slated to hit sixth according to MLB Depth Charts, but does have a chance to move up to fifth if Colby Rasmus runs cold for a couple of weeks. Of course, Melky Cabrera could also very well stink and Lawrie could take over the two hole. So there are clear opportunities to move up in the lineup, which would possibly lead to better RBI and/or runs scored totals.
Lawrie ran slightly less than 2011, but most of the disappointment came from the caught stealings. He went 7 for 8 in 2011, but just 13 for 21 last season. He also hit one less triple in nearly 350 more at-bats, another sign that his speed just wasn’t the same. The fewer attempts could be blamed on the oblique injury, as he made zero attempts in September after returning. But what about the caught stealings? Well, aside from 2011, which seemed to be a breakout in every single statistical category, Lawrie never was a very good base stealer. His 2011 looks more like the exception than the rule.
Below is my final projected batting line, along with Bill James and Fans projections for comparison.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.