2018 RATING: 4.02
2017 RATING: 7.36
2018 SALARY: $4,275,000
2018 PERFORMANCE: 56 G, 207 AB, 34 R, 46 H, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 26 BB, 65 SO, .222 BA, .655 OPS, 72 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR
2019 STATUS: Arbitration - 2 (estimated $4,700,000)
To say that Jake Lamb had a terrible 2018 season would be simultaneously both a fair and honest assessment as well as a somewhat critical one. After all, getting only 40% of a season’s worth of at-bats, Lamb did manage to still contribute nearly a full win above replacement by the metrics at baseball-reference. Alas, Lamb was expected to be a much bigger contributor in 2018, a standard that sadly, for both the Diamondbacks and for Lamb, he was unable to rise to the level of.
Certainly, part of Jake Lamb’s 2018 woes can be traced back to his difficulties with left-handed pitching. Though he has a decent highlight reel of at-bats against left-handed pitchers, Lamb has, over the course of the last three seasons, proven that he needs platoon help for when the opposition runs out left-handed starting pitching. This is especially true when playing in the division of Kershaw, Bumgarner, and other tough left-handed starters and specialists. However, what likely hurt his 2018 campaign as much as his trouble with same-side pitching was a shoulder injury sustained during the fourth game of the season.
As one can see in the video, Lamb’s left shoulder took quite a shot making that play. That injury cost Lamb 6 weeks. He then returned, but simply did not drive the ball the way that he had in the past. Balls that Lamb generally crushed in the past were merely typical liners. The pop in his bat just wasn’t there, leading to plenty of weak hits and a lack of runs driven in. On July 26th, after making another nice play against the Cubs in the second inning, he was lifted for pinch-hitter Ketel Marte in the third inning due to continued issues with the shoulder. He would not return to the field in 2018.
The morning after Lamb left the game, the Diamondbacks finished negotiating with the Minnesota Twins to bring in Eduardo Escobar to help out at third base. A trade that had originally been about bolstering a flagging position became about injury replacement for the rest of the season.
To say that 2018 was all bad for Jake Lamb would be unfair though. Yes, he missed more than half the season due to injury and it can easily be argued that he was probably rushed back too early from his April second shoulder injury, leading to a sub-optimal 12-week stretch at the plate. However, despite Lamb’s injury-plagued offense, Lamb did make some positive strides in 2018. For one thing, Lamb’s defense in 2018 was much-improved over the defense he had displayed in 2016 and 2017. He showed the range and glove at third base that he displayed when he was still in the minors and when he first came up to the majors, before Matt Williams and others began to tinker with his footwork and positioning. What had for two seasons been a somewhat significant drain on his overall value, was turned into an area of positive contribution. One hopes that the injuries incurred in 2018 as the result of a great defensive play will not serve as an obstacle to continued improvement of third base defense moving forward.
Currently, it is difficult to say what Jake Lamb’s role will be in 2019. The Diamondbacks’ front office was rather impressed with Eduardo Escobar during his time with the team in 2018. They were so impressed with him that they signed him to a 3-year/$21 million extension during the postseason. However, Escobar is also a capable second baseman, and with the departure of A.J. Pollock to free agency, there is speculation that Ketel MArte could move to center field. This would certainly mean that there would be plenty of playing time left for Lamb at third base. There is also the chance that Lamb could become part of the solution at first base should the team elect to trade Paul Goldschmidt this winter. Regardless of how the infield eventually shakes out though, it can be safely assumed that Lamb is going to be counted on for 450-500 at-bats and that he will likely start primarily against right-handed starters, being given days off from starting when the team faces tougher lefties. If Lamb can marry the improved defense of 2018 with a healthy bat, he will likely be a very big part of whatever success the 2019 version of the team has.