Jake Lamb put together an all-time Jekyll & Hyde season in 2016. At the All-Star Break, Lamb was triple-slashing .291/.371/.612 with 20 home runs. His owners were rejoicing as they believed that they found a 2016 breakout star. They spent the entire second half wondering where that breakout star went as Lamb triple-slashed just .197/.283/.380 with 9 homers.
As with most any player, who sports a 28.2% HR/FB rate, it was a near certainty that Lamb’s power would return to mortal levels, but the complete collapse of the rest of his profile is what mystified his fantasy owners. There is no easy answer for Lamb’s struggles, which you probably predicted.
Lamb suffered a hand injury around the time that he started to struggle, which may have nagged him, but in the press, he never mentioned that as a reason. In fact, Lamb specifically mentioned timing as an issue, which is reflected in his batted ball data. In the second half of the year, Lamb had a 33.7% pull rate in the second half compared to 50.5% pull rate in the first half. This indicates that Lamb was not getting around the ball as much in the second half and driving the ball out, rather he was hitting the ball to center or the opposite field.
The direction of his batted balls became especially troublesome when, despite a 36.2% hard contact rate, Lamb hit line drives just 13% and hit flyballs at 40% clip. These figures help explain why Lamb’s BABIP went from .337 in the first half to .240 in the second half. Despite the problems with the second half batted ball profile, Lamb was unlucky in the batting average department when you account for the hard contact rate.
Lamb’s second half BABIP is also the primary culprit behind the batting average struggles because he did not experience a severe surge in strikeout rate – 24.6% in the first half and 27.5% in the second half. The 27.5% is certainly higher than you want to see, but it is not some huge gap that could explains what occurred to Lamb. Thus, we can safely assume that while Lamb was struggling, he did not deserve a complete and utter collapse. It is not all sunshine though. If we could blame this on injury, then the answer is simple – Lamb will get healthy and return to a slightly reduced form of his first half self. If Lamb was not injured, then it was a prolonged slump brought on by timing issues, which Lamb was unable to correct.
Now, Lamb deserves some credit because he was able to make the first adjustment, which led to his first half breakout and power surge. Those were real, discernible mechanical changes that produced results. A player that has made one adjustment can almost certainly make another adjustment to correct these issues.
Lamb’s progression and regression is reminiscent of another player that I have written about – Brandon Belt. Lamb has shown the ability to be a .280-.290 15 home run hitter and the ability to be a 30-35 home run power threat by pulling the ball, which is extremely similar profile-wise to Belt, who started out a good average, line drive hitter then an extreme flyball power player before settling into the player that hits .280 and comes close to 20 homers. Of course, 20 homers for Belt, could be 25 for Lamb considering his surroundings.
Can he be both? Can he become proficient enough at both approaches that he can adjust game-to-game, pitcher-to-pitcher? That is the difference between a great player and a good, useful player.
Fortunately for his potential fantasy owners, Lamb does not necessarily need to make those adjustments in order to be a good fantasy option. If Lamb can avoid extraordinary bouts of bad luck like in the second half, his current approach is likely sufficient to provide owners with a .260 25 homer output in the middle of a very good lineup.
My projection for Lamb reflects that output plus a little more to account for the upside that exists. I firmly believe that a player, who has adapted his approach once, is more likely to make further adjustments to round out their game.
My projection for Jake Lamb – 85 R, 27 HR, 92 RBI, 5 SB .265/.340/.505.