- Rating: 3.64
- Age: 28
- 2019 stats: 226 PA, .193/.323/.353 = .676 OPS, 76 OPS+ -0.3 bWAR
- 2019 salary: $4,825,000
- 2020 status: Arbitration 3 eligible ($5,000,000)
In 2014, the Diamondbacks made a deadline trade, sending their starting third baseman, Martin Prado, to the New York Yankees in exchange for Peter O’Brien. This opened the door for Jake Lamb, the organization’s perceived third baseman of the future. At the time, Lamb profiled as a slightly above average defender with over-the-wall power and good on-base skills. Upon arrival in the Majors, Lamb was coached by Matt Williams to change his fielding practices. This was, frankly, an unmitigated disaster. On the other hand, Lamb’s left-handed bat did indeed prove to be a potent force at the plate. His ability and willingness to draw walks, combined with his easy swing ability to put the ball in the seats, made Lamb a great fit for the heart of the Arizona batting order. In 2016 Lamb finally broke out over the first half of the season, being snubbed from the All-Star game, despite leading the NL in RBI at the time and being one of the best run-producers in the game. Then, the second half rolled around and Lamb seemed to run out of steam. He limped to the end of the season, putting up rather pedestrian numbers. However, his first half had been so good, he still finished the season with solid overall numbers.
In 2017, Lamb once again got off to a torrid start. Then, his second half once again fell to pieces. This time though, it was assumed to be the result of injury. This became the start of a pattern though, one that persisted through the 2019 season.
In order to address Lamb’s combination of performance and injury issues, the Diamondbacks went out and picked up Eduardo Escobar around mid-season in 2018. His strong 2018 totals convinced the Diamondbacks to extend him on a three-year deal. That created a bit of a logjam at third base. With Escobar now in place as the team’s primary option at third base, Jake Lamb became a utility corner infielder. Then, the team traded away Paul Goldschmidt. This opened up first base for a platoon of Jake Lamb and Christian Walker. It was figured that Walker could protect the team against Lamb’s inability to hit left-handed pitching. Most fans seemed to expect that this meant that Lamb would receive the majority of starts at first and that Walker would be used against left-handed starters and to push Lamb to improve. Except, that isn’t really how it played out. Despite the presence of Christian Walker on the roster, Lamb received a number of early-season starts against left-handed pitching. In the end, it didn’t matter. Just as everyone started asking questions about how Jake Lamb would be utilized moving forward, Lamb suffered yet another injury - this one a grade-2 strain of his left quad. The injury cost him six weeks of playing time. During this period, Christian Walker stepped up and made the starting first baseman job his.
With Lamb having cleaned up the defensive woes that plagued him under Williams, the team found a timeshare role for Lamb as a utility corner infielder. He slotted in as both a third baseman and as a first baseman. This gave Christian Walker some time off and also allowed for Eduardo Escobar to play some games at second base. This made it relatively easy for the team to plug the hole created by the loss to injury of Wilmer Flores. Unfortunately, Lamb was never his “old self” when he took the field. His eye at the plate was less discerning than usual. The easy power he had often displayed in previous seasons seemed to be missing. Once the calendar turned to August, things went from bad to worse. Although Lamb’s season highlights come from this time period, Lamb batted only .155/.279/.282. With a lack of on-base production and what seemed to be an total evaporation of his power, Lamb’s continued presence in the lineup began to irk many fans.
For all that, a few things did go well for him in August. For one thing, he showed the sort of glove he had previously demonstrated in the minors and prior to injury in 2018. He was by no means a star defender, but he was more than capable. This led to plays such as those shown below, one of which made the short list for defensive play of the year on the left side of the infield.
As the season pulled to a close and nearly everyone had written off Lamb’s bat as permanently lost, he reminded the world what his easy power looks like in a game against the Padres when he effortlessly deposited the ball into the bleachers in right-center, 455 feet from home plate.
Jake Lamb is eligible for arbitration for the third and final time for the 2020 season. The emergence of Christian Walker and the continued strong performance of Eduardo Escobar, combined with Lamb’s repeated inability to stay healthy and/or productive makes him a clear non-tender candidate - something that seemed a stretch only four months ago. With the payroll increases due to arbitration eating away at much of the team’s savings from the Greinke trade, it makes the argument for non-tendering Lamb even stronger. However, Lamb does bat from the left side and is a capable defender at both corner infield positions. The real issue is whether or not his power is going to return. He showed in late September that it is still hiding in there somewhere, but he is going to need to be able to tap into it more frequently if he is going to stay in the Majors. It would not be surprising if the team decides to tender Lamb a contract to see which version shows up in February and March. If the Jake Lamb of early 2016 and 2017 shows up, then he will easily be worth the expected $5,000,000 salary as a corner infielder that facilitates Arizona’s positional flexibility model. If, however, he still lacks the easy power and continues to show a degradation in his plate discipline, then it would make sense for the team to part ways with Lamb and explore other options for a left-handed impact bat off the bench.