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Is Jake Lamb for real?

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Jake Lamb
Jake Lamb
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Let's talk about Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb.

First, a question from the mailbag:

"Since he is a key part of my fantasy team for the future, I was REALLY happy when Jake Lamb got off to such a hot start, especially after he had some trouble last year and I stuck with him. And I was really unhappy when he went on the disabled list with a foot injury! I have a couple of trade offers on the table for him right now so I'm trying to decide if the foot thing will be a long-term problem, if his pre-injury performance was a fluke and if last year's troubles were the real Lamb. What do you think?"----Victor R, Gatewood, Washington.


Well Victor, yes I imagine you were quite happy with Lamb's start: .414/.514/.690 in his first 10 games this year, with six walks and just three strikeouts. That's certainly much better than the .230/.263/.373 line he rang up in his first 37 big league games last summer. If you look at his career in context, his first 37 major league games were the only time when he hasn't hit the hell out of the ball, so in that sense his fast start this year is a return to his previous standards.

Yes there is the issue of sample size, of course, but that can be cut both ways. He was very effective in college, hitting .326/.401/.450 in three years at the University of Washington (is that why you liked him? He's from your home state?) He was excellent in the minors (.321/.406/.553 over parts of three seasons). He did jump to the majors last year with only five Triple-A games on his resume, so his struggles last year aren't exactly strange.

This is my take in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book:

Jake Lamb continued to destroy minor league pitching last year, just as he’s done since being a sixth round pick from the University of Washington in 2012. He was rushed to the majors after just five games of Triple-A. Not surprisingly, he struggled with the bat. Scouts have always had some skepticism about Lamb’s swing, although his advanced eye for the strike zone compensated for that in the minors and helped him nail hittable pitches. Major league pitching was another matter, as there were fewer mistakes to crush and experienced pitchers were able to exploit his holes. That said, he did show some power and given the entirety of his track record he deserves more at-bats. It helps that Lamb’s glove is very good, which under normal circumstances would buy him more time to get the bat in gear. Lamb may wind up back in Triple-A anyhow, if Yasmany Tomas earns the third base job. I expect Lamb will continue to crush minor league competition. Grade B-.

That was written before spring training and as you know it was Tomas who ended up in Triple-A with Lamb keeping his job. At least until the foot injury.

Lamb's plate discipline was much improved this spring and back up to his past standards. As for the swing issue noticed by scouts, AZSnakePit had a good article by contributor XiPooo a few days ago breaking down Lamb's swing. It gets technical but these strike me as the key points:

After watching a few of Jake's swings he is what I would classify as a prototypical pull hitter.  But what's a bit different about Jake is his ability to pull the ball pitched on the outer half of the plate with reasonable success.  The typical book on lefties is to never pitch them inside, much less low and inside and Jake is no exception.  They tend to golf them out.  One thing that Jake really has going for him, is how quick he can get to the ball.  Probably one of the shortest swings executed in the league.  Shorter swings = longer time to react.

This is particularly interesting because I have seen other references to Lamb's swing being too long on occasion. XiPooo concludes that when things are right Lamb can be pretty devastating, but that his mechanics could break down on occasion. Overall it "makes for a very streaky hitter which I believe Jake to be.  All the more reason to play him while he's hot and sit him when he's not."

I am no expert on swing mechanics but this all seems reasonable and does fit Lamb's track record.

We need to see how he comes back from the foot injury, of course, and foot issues have been known to mess hitters up at least if they try to come back too soon. However, given the overall track record I think Lamb remains a good investment. No, he's not going to hit .400 all the time but I don't see why he can't hit .280 with at least moderate power and a solid OBP. Add that to a very good glove and you have value.