Many of my goals for the offseason, as far as the third base position is concerned, relate to an evaluation of the standing of several players and their roles within their current situation on their current teams. Examining the standing within their organization, perhaps somewhat obviously, should lead us to some insight surrounding their value from a fantasy standpoint. And what better place to start than with the player that has become my personal special boy, of sorts (really in every way possible), in Jake Lamb.
Lamb has experienced an uptick in production overall, especially as it relates to the power side of things. His .239 ISO ranked seventh among qualifying third sackers in 2017, following up a season in which he posted a .260 mark. Despite some second-half issues, some of which were caused by injury (specifically in 2016), we’ve seen improvement from Lamb in a number of regards. He’s improved his walk rate in each of the last three seasons, exceeding 13.0% in 2017, while also managing to cut down on his strikeout rate ever-so-slightly. He’s made some of the hardest contact at the position, including almost a 40% Hard% in ’16, while boosting his contact rate almost five full percent this past season.
However, despite the improvements that he’s so obviously demonstrated in a potent Arizona lineup, there could be a couple of significant issues that dissuade folks from giving proper attention to him moving forward. In a similar vein, could it impact his standing with the Diamondbacks moving forward?
The 2017 season provides some striking context for both issues that Lamb brings to the table. First, his struggles against left-handed pitching:
Under Torey Lovullo, Lamb got out of some of the sheltering that he experienced at the hands of Chip Hale, who seemingly outright refused to play his third baseman against southpaws. He did show some progress, but it wasn’t impactful enough to eliminate the concerns that are present here. Lamb had the lowest OBP, fifth lowest ISO, and worst wRC+ mark among third basemen against lefty pitching. His second half doesn’t paint the prettiest of pictures either.
The second half tends to paint just a little more optimism. Unlike the 2016 season, where injuries completely derailed the second half for Lamb, he ran into a lot of bad luck. Many of his figures related to approach and contact didn’t change, but his BABIP in the second half did fall all the way to .227 from .332 in the first half, despite a hard contact rate that remained relatively constant. Could that mean that his struggles in the second half were the result of some bad luck? If so, it certainly provides more room for optimism in regard to the hot corner in the desert.
Some have questioned whether or not the Diamondbacks could explore a more well-rounded option for Lamb moving forward. Those struggles against lefties are glaring, as are the second half woes, at least on paper. But the BABIP figures, despite the same approach, could mean that his second half issues aren’t entirely what they seem. Against lefties, Lamb obviously comes up short, but who’s to say with more opportunities in those situations, he doesn’t improve? And if he doesn’t, given what he brings in virtually every other offensive regard, it’s extremely easy to acknowledge that the benefits outweigh whatever shortcomings he demonstrates. If things even out in the second half of next year on the BABIP side, then we could be having a completely different conversation this time next year.
The issues are there, to be sure. There are more consistent and well-rounded options at the position. But in terms of the power game, you take the upside over some of those pitfalls that Lamb presents. At this point, though, there’s no reason to think that the third base situation in Arizona changes anytime soon. Lamb is completely locked in, shortcomings be damned.