Oakland Athletics Third Baseman Brett Lawrie: Buy or Sell?

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It is a good time of the year for fantasy baseball managers to take a look at the team they have and figure out what they need and where their team stands. AJ Andree looks at Oakland Athletics Third Baseman Brett Lawrie as a sell high candidate.

To date, Brett Lawrie has a .281/.316/.413 slash line, good for .730 OPS. He has hit 8 home runs and is playing for an Oakland Athletics team that seems to be getting hot right now, which could lead to an uptick in Lawrie’s RBIs and runs scored over the rest of the season. So why suggest that it is time to sell high on Lawrie?

For one, Lawrie’s isolated power (ISO) is down. Last season he had a respectable .174 ISO, but this season that has dipped to .136. This is problematic when compared to his current BABIP. For his career, Lawrie has a .305 BABIP but he is sitting on a .366 BABIP this season. His batted ball trends don’t show any significant changes from his career trends, as his line drive(LD)%, hard hit %, and groundball (GB)% are within range of what we’ve seen of Lawrie before this season. 

To fully examine this trend, we need to look at his 2012, which closely matches his 2015 season in regards to batted ball trends. Lawrie’s LD%, GB% and hard hit% were 20%, 50.2%, and 26%, respectively, in 2012 leading to a BABIP of .311. This season, he has a 19.7 LD%, 49.6% GB, 28.6% hard hit%. He’s hitting the ball slightly harder, but not enough to explain the massive gap between the two BABIPs.

What has actually changed is that Lawrie is beating out infield hits at a significantly higher rate than is to be expected. His career high is 20, and he’s at 16 on the season already. This season, Lawrie has been lucky and when that luck runs out and some of those ground balls turn into outs, his batting average is going to plummet.

Another reason to be concerned is that Lawrie’s plate discipline has nearly disappeared this season. Lawrie’s career strikeout rate is just a shade over 18%. This season, it is 26.1%, without an increase in power that is typically seen when a batter’s strikeout rate spikes. However, there are some things to point to when explaining why Lawrie’s strikeout rate is so high this season.

Currently, Lawrie is swinging at a career high percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone. For his career, he has done that 30.3% of the time, this season he is doing it 37.4% of the time. However, he’s not making any more contact with those pitches. In fact, his O-Contact% this season is nearly identical to last season, and is just barely under his career number, 64.9% to 66.5% respectively.

The bigger problem is that Lawrie’s making less contact with pitches seen inside the strike zone. He is only making contact with those pitches 80.6% of the time. For comparison, he made contact with those pitches 89.7% of the time last season and has done so 87% of the time over his career. So we have a batter who is swinging at more pitches outside of the zone, without making increased contact while also making less contact with pitches he is seeing inside the zone. All signs point to a heavy regression in the near future and you don’t want Lawrie on your team when that happens.

Thankfully, his wRC+ this season is still the best it’s been since his rookie season, as is his OPS. If you can get someone to buy that he’s turning it around, and fulfilling his promise, now is absolutely the right time to do so. All that has seemed to change is that Lawrie has been getting lucky this season even while take steps backwards in his plate discipline, and that’s unlikely to continue into the second half. I’d expect his value is going to drop significantly by the end of the season. Quite frankly, a league average 3rd baseman isn’t worth very much, and that’s what Lawrie has been so far in his career.

All statitstics credit of fangraphs.com

AJ Andree has also written about the value of Yovani Gallardo.

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