Thoughts on the Brett Lawrie Incident

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 15: Brett Lawrie #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws his batting helmet to protest a third strike call by Umpire Bill Miller (not pictured) during MLB game action the Tampa Bay Rays May 15, 2012 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)

The biggest story in baseball this morning is Brett Lawrie's emotional outburst and ejection from last night's Toronto Blue Jays/Tampa Bay Rays game and the suspension that will likely result. Interestingly enough, I was thinking about Lawrie just before this happened. I was going to use him as an example in my upcoming article about the nature of personality and makeup in prospect analysis. Everyone is going to be talking about Lawrie's makeup for a few days at least, so it is a timely topic and I'll have more to say about this in the coming days.

As for the bat-throwing incident itself, here are my thoughts

1) Lawrie was right to be irritated; those were a couple of bad calls.

2) It is common for umpires to "show up" rookies and young players. I don't think this is right and the whole "different rules for different players" thing has always rubbed me the wrong way, but it is what it is.

3) Lawrie was too aggressive about running over to first base on a possible walk. After he got called on that and was visibly irritated, he should have swallowed his temper and said something like "sorry" to the ump before the next pitch was thrown. This may have increased the chance that the ump would give him a fair call. Instead, he stayed visibly irritated and made exactly the same move, increasing the chance that the ump would show him up.

4) I don't think Lawrie was trying to hit the ump with his helmet. His temper exploded and he threw the helmet down and it bounced.

5) Intention matters, but Lawrie should still be suspended. I think the circumstances should mitigate against a huge suspension, but the point needs to be made that Lawrie has to get a better hold on his temper. I'd suspend him for 10 games, not enough to cripple his season but enough to make the point that he needs to control himself.

The ump was being a jerk and I don't think it is right for an ump's emotions and desire to prove some sort of a point to impact the outcome of the game. But that doesn't excuse what Lawrie did. You just can't throw equipment like that; somebody could get hurt. The guy with the bat and the helmet absolutely must stay in control of his emotions, even if he's being baited.

About a year ago, I wrote a scouting report about Lawrie after seeing him play in Triple-A. You can find it below the fold, and it makes some still-relevant observations about his defense, about his personality, and even about how he dealt with a similar bad call by an umpire in the minors.

I went to Omaha on Sunday, May 22nd, and took a close look at Blue Jays prospect Brett Lawrie.

Brett Lawrie, 3B, Las Vegas 51s: Yesterday was the Brett Lawrie Show: he went 2-for-4 with two homers and four RBI. In his last 10 games, Lawrie is hitting .375/.490/.800 with nine walks and four homers. On the season, he's at .346/.403/.633 with 11 homers and nine steals in 10 attempts.

Based on his track record, and what I saw Sunday afternoon, I am convinced that Brett Lawrie has everything needed to be a superstar. The only things that could get in the way are injuries or his own personality.

Star-divide

There were three cautions for Lawrie entering 2011: his plate discipline, his position, and his attitude. We'll start with the hitting.

Lawrie has always shown me good bat speed when I've seen him, but he's taken that up a notch this year. He's closed his stance slightly compared to previous observations, and his bat looks even quicker now. He is working counts MUCH more effectively than when I've see him in the past. One of his homers (the one pictured) was a long arching shot pulled to left center. The second one was an opposite field homer, a result of Lawrie making strong contact on an outside pitch and driving it perfectly.

The one thing that was keeping him from fully tapping his natural power was impatience, but he showed a terrific eye in this game, and this seems deliberate: after posting a weak 4/23 BB/K in April, he's at 11/13 in May. When he was in high school, scouting reports indicated that plate discipline was one of his strengths. He didn't show much of that in his first two years of pro ball, but he is suddenly controlling the zone again. If he keeps that up, look out.

Defense: Lawrie converted to third base from second base this year. The results so far: a .922 fielding percentage, although combined with a strong 3.02 range factor. If you look at the boxscore for this game, you'll see that Lawrie made two errors. But that's not the whole story.

One of his errors went like this: the ball was hit to the gap between the third baseman and shortstop. Lawrie was playing slightly off the bag, but ranged far to his left, well into the normal territory of the shortstop. The SS seemed to misread the ball but Lawrie got to it, backhanded it, did a quick almost 360 pivot, and fired the ball to the first baseman one step ahead of the runner. His release was very quick and it was a very athletic play. However, the throw was off target and pulled the first baseman off the bag.

The key here was that Lawrie showed great range and quickness to his left, and with more experience at the position that throw might well have been on target.

Another impressive play: Lawrie was playing back. The hitter made a perfectly placed bunt, Lawrie charged, scooped the ball, and made an off-balance, on-target throw to first base. The runner beat the throw for a single, but again Lawrie showed the requisite quickness and athleticism for the position.

My view of Lawrie's defense is this: he has more than enough range and athleticism for third base, has a quick release, and a strong enough arm. He just needs more experience.

He also runs well with more speed than you'd expect given his size. I didn't get to see him do anything on the bases other than a home run trot, but he's 9-for-10 this year with steals, much better than the 30/43 mark he posted last year.

Attitude: This is the big knock on Lawrie and one of the reasons (it is said) that the Brewers were willing to trade him.

Obviously there is only so much you can tell from just watching a player, but I kept my eye on him most of the game, even he wasn't the center of attention or involved in a play. Lawrie fidgets a lot. He seems to radiate intensity and energy. This can be somewhat off-putting, like when he fidgets during the national anthem when everyone else is still, but the upside is that his body looked alive far more than everyone else on the field, with the possible exception of Lorenzo Cain. Comparing Lawrie with Moustakas for example, Lawrie just oozes energetic power compared to Moustakas' solid, staid affect.

Lawrie's intensity manifested itself negatively when he got into an argument with the umpire about a check-swing strike three call. It looked like he almost got ejected (which would have really irritated me, it was just the third inning), but he pulled himself back in time and stayed in the game. There are all kinds of stories/rumors about Lawrie's personality and antics, but he plays with fire on the field.

To summarize, I really believe in Lawrie's bat. He has the tools to be a good defensive third baseman with experience. He plays very hard on the field. You don't have to be a nice guy to be a great player. If he avoids injuries, grows up a bit and learns to channel his energy and intensity, he's going to be a monster.

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