If you were to ask which players are most likely to end up at the All-Star Game this year, your first two guesses would be 1B Paul Goldschmidt and CF AJ Pollock. Both have been nominated to that honor, with Goldschmidt going the last four years and Pollock in 2015. Last year 3B Jake Lamb narrowly missed out, losing the final vote to Giants 1B Brandon Belt.
In the first half of 2016, Lamb put up a .291/.373/.612 slashline (151 wRC+), sustained by a .337 BABIP. Lamb was eventually going to come down to Earth at some point, although the fall was pretty severe with a .197/.283/.380 line off a .240 BABIP. In late July against the Toronto Blue Jays, Lamb bruised a thumb when fouling off a fastball from Aaron Sanchez. When it comes to hitting, injuries to the hand, wrist, or fingers become problematic, as that likely contributed for the 2nd half drop in addition to normal regression.
Another problematic area was Lamb’s performance against LHP. His hard hit rate dropped from 42.3% to 28.0% and his ground ball rate increased from 43.6% to 54.7%. Those were both bad signs, which led to a .164/.279/.345 slashline (63 wRC+) in 2016. However one positive sign comes with the BB/K ratio, which checks in at 0.47 vs. LHP vs. 0.40 vs. RHP. The issue isn’t patience, as evidenced by a 13.2% walk rate, but rather making better contact. For a batter whose game is barreling up the ball and getting it in the air, those are the two areas he needs to improve against LHP at.
The strengths in Lamb’s offensive game is being able to barrel up the ball and get it in the air in order to utilize his plus power. Lamb can hit the ball out of the park to any part of the field and led the team in extra base hits. That’s a result of a 13.5% barrel per batted ball and 7.1% barrel per plate appearance, both numbers finishing in the Top 30 amongst MLB players with 190 batted balls in 2016. His ability to barrel up the ball led to a 39.4% hard hit rate, finishing 2nd behind Yasmany Tomas (41.0%), 29 home runs, 69 extra base hits, and a 114 wRC+.
There is also a reason to believe that Lamb could put up better numbers in 2017. Lamb will get his chances to play every day at 3B this year, even against left-handed pitchers. Starting 140 games would push his plate appearance total well into the 600s, and I’m projecting he gets about 650. Lamb also went through a fielding slump at 3B and the team has a new infield instructor as well, so I do expect his defense to be at least break-even. That pushes Lamb’s floor to 3 WAR for 2017 expectations. However, I do think his true skill set is 125-135 wRC+ at the plate as well, which is in the AJ Pollock range.
Lamb’s ability to draw walks, barrel up the ball, and play solid defense at 3B makes him one of the league underrated players. You can make the argument he’s already the third best player on the team behind Goldschmidt and Pollock, ahead of Zack Greinke. Lamb has 30 HR, 100 RBI, and 75 XBH talent from the left side, which is extremely valuable even with the .250 batting average and .330 OBP from last season. In terms of lineup construction, he may be a better fit for the 2 hole than 4 hole hitting in front of Goldschmidt instead of behind him.