Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Brad Lincoln, Potential Number 2?

In the seventh inning of tonight's game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, Travis Snider was pulled from the game.  It was later discovered that he had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Brad Lincoln.  Many reports coming out of Rogers Sportsnet and other media outlets talked a lot about what the Jays gave up in this trade, but not a lot about what they received.  As for the reports that do offer information on Lincoln, such as this one, they do not go very in-depth. 

Travis Snider was once a highly touted prospect, ranking as high as 6th by Baseball America prior to the 2009 season.  While he demolished minor league pitching, he has struggled at the Major League level.  As a Blue Jay, Snider managed a career slash line of .247/.305/.429 prior to his final game with the team, over parts of five seasons.  He had totalled two years and fifteen days of service time coming into the season, and should remain under team control until the end of the 2016 season.

Snider had a great 2008, but since then, has not been able to hold down a job in the Majors.  At the conclusion of the 2008 season, I wrote a blog entry that compared Snider's first year numbers to those of Russ Adams.  I cannot find that entry any longer, but I will say now that Snider is definitely no Russ Adams.

What are the Blue Jays getting in Brad Lincoln?  A 27-year-old pitcher who was drafted 4th overall in the 2006 draft.  One place ahead of current Jays ace Brandon Morrow, 10 places ahead of Snider, and 14 places ahead of currently injured Blue Jays starter Kyle Drabek.

Lincoln was ranked as the 67th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America prior to the 2007 season, with Morrow ranked 87th and Snider ranked 53rd.  At the start of the 2012 season, Lincoln had tallied just 143 days of Major League service, meaning that he will be under team control until the end of the 2018 season.  Two years longer than Snider.

In 51 career games, Lincoln has made 22 starts.  He is 5-9 with a 5.65 ERA in those 22 starts, and 2-0 with a 1.87 ERA in 29 relief appearances.  In 2010, Lincoln was pretty bad.  He went 1-4 with a 6.57 ERA in 9 starts, with 3.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.  He really only had one good start that year, which came against the Cubs On June 30th, where he tossed 7 innings of 4-hit shutout ball.

The 2011 season saw an improvement to Lincoln's numbers as a starter.  He went 2-3 with a 4.29 ERA in 8 starts, with 5.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9.  His strikeouts were up, but so were his walks.  His groundball rate took a noticeable improvement, going from 37.2% in 2010 to 51.6% in 2011.  If you take out his one start on September 18th against the Dodgers in which he allowed 6 earned runs over 1.2 IP, his ERA drops to 3.12 over his other 7 starts.

In 2012, he has only been called on for 5 starts, going 2-2 with a 6.08 ERA in those 5 starts with a 7.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9.  His strikeouts were up, his walks were down, but so was his groundball rate.  As a starter and reliever combined, he has a groundball rate of just 37.0%.  He made his first start on May 14, which was a good outing against Miami where he allowed just two runs over six innings.  His next starts came on June 6, 12, 17 and 23.  While the first three of those four were disastrous outings, he had a great outing on the 23rd against the Detroit Tigers, allowing just one run on a solo home run to Miguel Cabrera over six innings with seven strikeouts.  It should be noted that the Tigers have the 10th best offence in the Majors, averaging 4.50 runs per game.

As a reliever in 2012, Lincoln is 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA in 35.2 innings with 10.1 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9.  These are great numbers for a reliever, and Lincoln could potentially become a setup man for the Blue Jays or even replace Casey Janssen as a closer.  However, I would like to see a different approach.

Simply when going by Lincoln's K/9 and BB/9 numbers, the current Blue Jays starter that they are most comparable with for this season is Brandon Morrow.  Lincoln's 7.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 stack up nicely to Morrow's 7.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, but Lincoln's K/BB ratio of 3.33 is much better than Morrow's 2.79.  In fact, Lincoln's K/BB ratio is much better than all the current Jays starters, despite the small sample size of only five starts.

The problem Lincoln seems to be having this year, much like Brett Cecil, is with the long ball.  Lincoln has allowed a disturbing 2.3 HR/9, higher than Cecil's 1.8.  If this number can be lowered, I truly believe that the Jays did not acquire a great setup man, but a genuine #2 starter to slot behind Morrow.

The article I linked to earlier in this post states, "Lincoln’s average fastball speed this season is in the 92- to 93-mph range and he also throws a curveball and the occasional changeup."  According to FanGraphs, it has been at an average of 93.2 MPH.  What the article fails to mention is that he has done that a lot as a reliever.  In 2010 and 2011, he was averaging 91.6 and 91.8 respectively, when primarily being used as a starter.  He also used a change-up in those two years, whereas this year, he has relied much more heavily on his curveball and even used a splitter on a rare occasion.

I am not saying that the Jays will make him a starter, I just think it would be in the best interest of the team to at least give it a try.  When the Jays traded for Brandon Morrow, he was constantly being put back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, much like Lincoln has been.  I realize that Morrow was younger at the time of the acquisition, as the two are currently the same age, but the similarities are there.

Daniel Bard as a starter was a failed attempt by the Red Sox this season, but there are numerous other examples of success stories.  I genuinely believe that, if given enough time as a starter and not constantly being switched between the rotation and bullpen, Lincoln will be able to thrive.  He has shown the ability to be a starter in spots, let him do that over the course of a few consecutive starts.  His first and last starts of this year were his best of the five, give him double that number as a Blue Jay and we may have just stolen something away from the Pirates.

With the Jays still in the playoff hunt for this year, trying Lincoln in the rotation now may not be the best decision, but I at least hope that they give him a shot in Spring Training and that he will be an everyday starter for the Blue Jays at this time next year.