Time to Worry About Brett Lawrie?

Brett Lawrie has been a bit of a disappointment. His performance hasn’t been awful, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations, either. Last season, Lawrie hit .293/.373/.580 in just 171 plate appearances, vaulting him up the fantasy ranks. For a player that many owners drafted between the fourth and sixth rounds, Lawrie’s .272/.315/.369 slash line isn’t offering much value. Unless Lawrie can improve on his current performance, it’s time to start wondering whether he’s still worth starting in shallow leagues.

There are some disturbing trends driving Lawrie’s sophomore slump. Lawrie has been more aggressive at the plate. His walk rate has dropped from a solid 9.4% to a far less exciting 4.7% this year. But while his Swing% is up, Lawrie has actually been more selective on pitches in the strike zone. That means that Lawrie has expanded his zone this season. He’s offering at far more pitches outside of the strike zone this year. Lawrie’s O-Swing% has jumped from 22.3 to 31.6 this year. That aggressive approach is likely contributing to his struggles. If pitchers know he’ll offer at poor pitches, they are probably less likely to throw him anything good.

Lawrie’s complete lack of power is a far bigger concern, though. Lawrie just isn’t hitting fly balls this season. As a result, his ground ball rate has jumped from 38.1% to 52.5%. And since ground ball rate is one of the first things to stabilize, it’s not clear whether Lawrie will hit more fly balls this season. That’s a pretty drastic change for Lawrie, who consistently posted solid slugging percentages throughout his minor league career. Things were especially promising last season, when Lawrie hit 27 home runs combined between Triple-A and the majors. Las Vegas is often mentioned as a launching pad, making his power there somewhat questionable, but Lawrie still has a solid history of power in the minors.

If Lawrie continues to utilize this approach, it’s unclear whether he has much value in non-keeper leagues. Players who rarely hit home runs often use average and steals to produce value in fantasy leagues. And while Lawrie has been solid in the steals department, his average just isn’t high enough to support his current stats.

Based on his limited experience in the majors, it’s unclear whether Lawrie will be able to improve on his average. His .311 BABIP remains fairly close to his .318 mark from last year. But with his change in approach, Lawrie should be expected to hit for a higher BABIP. Since we know that balls hit on the ground typically produce more hits, there’s a chance for Lawrie’s BABIP to rise. He’s also hit a higher percentage of line drives this season, which should also help his BABIP. At the same time, we don’t really know what his normal BABIP should be, so it’s tough to guess whether his average will actually improve.

Unless you’re in a keeper league, it might be time to pick up another third baseman. Lawrie’s performance has been fine, but unspectacular. He’s still worth holding onto in case he starts picking things up, but his stats have been unusual this season. Since we don’t have a large sample of data with Lawrie in the majors, it’s tough to know whether he’ll pick things up again. Until Lawrie starts hitting more fly balls, you might be better off finding a replacement and hoping he turns things around.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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I was a big believer in Lawrie, drafted him in a couple leagues and traded for him in a 3rd league.
I’ve now traded him away in 2 of these leagues and have him benched in another
I still think he can turn it around, especially on a team that seems to really embrace a fly ball approach but he’s not untouchable anymore.