Brett Lawrie was too good too fast when it came to hitting at the major-league level.
As a result, it is difficult to put in perspective what kind of season the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman is having with the bat.
While his power numbers are way down from a year ago, Lawrie is still hitting a solid .279 swinging from the middle third of the batting order most games. It’s the second-highest average on the team among players with more than 150 at-bats.
Lawrie also has 25 runs batted in, and his versatility is such that for the past nine games he has hit out of the lead-off spot, where he has batted .270 with a .372 on-base percentage.
On the other side of the ledger, the five home runs and 13 extra-base hits have given manager John Farrell some cause for concern.
“I don’t think he’s hit stride this year for any length of time yet,” Farrell said this week. “And yet he’s still hitting .280, he’s beat out a number of infield hits. But I would have thought there would have been a little bit more extra base production so far.”
Lawrie set the bar high for himself when he burst into the majors a year ago, as a fireball of a 21-year-old with no shortage of self-confidence.
After getting called up from the minors Aug. 5, Lawrie made an immediate impact, hitting .293 with nine home runs in just 150 at-bats in 43 games.
That equates to about 34 homers over the course of a 162-game season.
Of his 44 hits, 21 (or 48 per cent) went for extra bases.
This season, Lawrie is on pace to hit 14 homers and his 13 extra-base hits amounts to just 20 per cent of his total output.
But don’t suggest to Lawrie that he is suffering from any kind of a power outage this season.
“No, not at all,” Lawrie said with almost an indignant air when the topic was broached. “It’s not concerning. I know that I can hit for power. I have five home runs so I know it’s there. “We’ve still got four months of baseball left so [there is] still a lot of damage to be done.”
So, what’s gone wrong?
Last season, Lawrie was much more disciplined at the plate and rarely swung at balls out of the strike zone. And when he did swing, he usually made contact, according to Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy.
This season, Lawrie’s walk rate has dropped to 5.3 per cent of his at-bats from a solid 9.4 per cent.
One reason for this, according to data collected by FanGraphs.com, is that the percentage of pitches that Lawrie has swung at outside the strike zone has jumped to 31.3 per cent from 22.3 a year ago.
Lawrie’s fly ball rate has also declined to 29.5 per cent from 44.9.
The solidly built third baseman is blessed with incredible bat speed through the strike zone that rivals that of teammate Jose Bautista, baseball’s leading home run hitter the past two seasons.
Combine that with a blinding competitive streak and Lawrie can sometimes be his own worst enemy at the plate.
“He’s an energetic guy as we know and I think sometimes that energy can get him out on his front foot a little bit too early in his swing,” Farrell said.
Lawrie doesn’t buy the notion that he’s sometimes too aggressive.
“That’s the way I’ve always played the game,” Lawrie said. “I don’t feel like I’m overamped. I feel like I’m just doing the same things I’ve always done. I don’t feel like I’ve changed anything.”
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