Ask anyone who drafted Brett Lawrie last year and they will likely tell you he was a disappointment. What they usually leave out of this assessment is that the player had nothing to do with the immense expectations that fantasy owners placed upon him as they jumped over each other to draft him. The Blue Jays' third baseman was one of the most over-hyped players heading into last season. I myself hyped him pretty hard last spring, but at least I told you it might not be worth chasing the upside once his draft stock rose so high. If you were one of those who got swept up in the hype, with visions of 30/30 causing you to jump him up your draft board, you know now it was a mistake. The question you have to answer for this year is are you going to let your misgivings prevent you from drafting him again.
The unfortunate fallout from the outsized expectations is that fantasy owners couldn’t properly appreciate the pretty good season the 23- year-old actually had last year. His line of .273/73/11/48/13 doesn’t look so terrible taken on its own merits. It’s only when we attach it to the price we paid on draft day that we come away totally unimpressed and underwhelmed. The power numbers in particular were a big letdown, especially since he teased us with elite pop in his 43-game debut in 2011, when he flashed a slugging percentage of .580.
There were a couple of factors that helped suppress Lawrie’s home run total in 2012, the first being the fact that he got hurt a lot last year, limiting him to just 125 games. The oblique injury he suffered in August cost him a month, and before that he had suffered from a litany of nagging injuries to his knee, back and calf to name a few. Some of these injuries were a direct result of the aggressive nature of his play at times, such as the headfirst dive into the camera-well in Yankee Stadium in July. While he battled through these minor injuries in the first half of the year, it seems like a reasonable assumption that the cumulative effect sapped a little juice from his bat at times. The mid-season back injury certainly seemed to stall the signs of life he showed in June, easily his best month in a long season.
But beyond the injuries, we have to look at what Lawrie did at the plate to see where he needs to improve for 2013. There has to be more to explain the power outage that saw his HR/FB rate tumble from 17 percent in 2011 to 9 percent last year. First off, he turned into a ground ball machine, with a GB rate of 50.2 percent. That is a ridiculously high number, and to compound things further, he not only hit far less fly balls than expected but he didn’t hit them as far. This will be the first area that the young infielder will need to improve if he is going to rebound this season. Despite all of last year’s struggles, there were some positives that he can build on and fantasy players can look to for optimism.
One area where Lawrie showed growth was in his ability to make contact. It was one of the areas where he actually improved his numbers from the previous year. His 83.6 percent contact rate shows that putting the bat on the ball wasn’t the issue, and at least that is something he can build on for this year. He also showed a more patient approach in the second half, especially after his return in September, when he posted his best BB percentage (10%) of any month. If he can carry that selectiveness over to this year, that will not only mean he is swinging at better pitches but it will mean he’ll be on base more often. That will hopefully lead to more stolen bases, although he needs to improve his success rate (13-21) to reach his potential here and keep the green light on.
I for one am still a believer, and as such I am once again targeting Lawrie in many of my drafts, especially if I miss out on the bigger names ahead of him. The difference, of course, is now I see him for what he is. He is still a young player with a solid track record of success in the minor leagues who is ready to take what he learned last year and apply it. Hopefully he’s learned what it takes to make it through a full season at the major league level and will return in better shape both physically and mentally, prepared to deliver on some of the promise he tantalized us with. I think the smart bet is to hope for improvement to come just from some normalization of some of the percentages mentioned above. Just be realistic this time and hope for a 20/20 season. That way you won’t be disappointed when he delivers.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey