Thursday, June 13, 2013

Various and Sundry Thursday Thoughts: Lind's resurgence and catchers controversies

Lind connects for a three run home run.
Photo courtesy @james_in_to's stupendous Flickr stream.
A few whims, notions, impressions and sentiments on the state of the Jays, such as it is...

Lindsanity: The funny thing about the great start to the 2013 that Adam Lind has had is the way that so few are prepared to believe it.

I suppose it makes sense, given the long, slow turgid road that we followed in watching his decline three year death march through the wilderness following his Silver Slugger season of 2009. In the ensuing three years, Lind posted an OPS of .724, saw his effectiveness limited by back problems, and managed to find himself demoted and exposed to waivers. An ignominious fate, to be sure.

Lind might not keep up his current pace - .418 OBP, .540 SLG - as his .391 BABIP seems unsustainably high. But his walk rate is up impressively to 12.2%, over rates of 6.2%, 5.9% and 8.2% over the past three seasons. He's also dropped his strikeout rate down to 16.9%, which is not bad for a power hitting

And to the eye - well, my eye, anyways - Lind's swing looks vastly improved over recent years, as he is back to uncoiling his body through the swing and getting torque from a decent rotation of his hips, rather than the vacant, all-arms swipes of recent memory.

If nothing else, this seasons has certainly complicated the question of what the Jays do with Lind and his three club options for 2014 through 2016.

Catcher Controversy?: The two-guys-one-job discussion is ubiquitous among the sports-talk chattering class, and in large part, these so-called controversies make for easily digestible stories. There are winners and losers. It's binary, and you get to play both sides while urging fans to choose one or the other.

So forgive me if I indulge for a moment in that which I hold in disdain.

The Jays decision last week to bring Josh Thole to the Majors was swiftly followed by speculation as to when he might supplant the struggling J.P. Arencibia as the everyday catcher. And the contrast between the two couldn't be more stark.

In his better moments, Thole is a patient hitter who will get on base (.330 career OBP), take walks (9.1% BB rate) and not strike out too much (12.3% K rate). He'll also not hit the ball very hard (.071 isolated power). Arencibia makes a lot of outs (.267 OBP), strikes out a ton (29% K rate) and walks only on special occasions (5.5% career walk rate, which has steadily declined from his 7.4% rate from his first full season.) Still, Arencibia can smack a tater. A .211 isolated power and .431 SLG are not to be dismissed out of hand.

Toss all those numbers into a big pile, and you can understand how people would divide themselves into two camps. Fewer outs! More dingers! Less slap hitters! More dingers!

Oddly, for the catching position, there isn't a lot of discussion around the relative levels of defensive acumen among these two. Maybe it's because neither are particularly exceptional behind the plate, nor are they wholly awful.

Up until the last game played in Chicago, I might have suggested that Arencibia is unlikely to lose much playing time to Thole given what I perceive to be an undying mancrush that John Gibbons seemed to have on J.P.. All of those at bats in hitting third, fourth or fifth in the order must have come from some level of irrational affection, right?

But seeing JPA plugged into the seven-hole in the lineup - against a lefty, no less - makes me wonder if his last 20 games and 99 plate appearances have been bad enough to take the bloom off the rose. A .202 OBP with 29 strikeouts versus four walks will do that.

Arencibia is likely to remain the incumbent in the coming months, but don't be surprised to see Thole get starters against right-handers with decent breaking balls. And if he succeeds? Well, then we might have a real discussion on our hands for 2014.

And one last note to ponder: Thole is signed to a two-year deal that pays him $1.25 million per year, while Arencibia makes $505,000 and hits arbitration after this season. Which might make this somewhat contrived controversy a little more real by the time we get to the trade deadline.

Programming note: If you want to take me to task on either of today's whims, or just want to discuss the state of the Blue Jays, I'll be chatting on tomorrow at 12:00 noon Eastern Time. Come on by and let me know about the bee in your ballcap.