Baseball Prospectus is looking for a Public Data Services Director. Read the description here.

Player Background

Canadian; he was born and raised in Canada.

Also, Lawrie—now with his third MLB team—has gone from highly touted prospect to major-league regular. He has never returned to his 2011 form, which saw him roto-slash .352/18/64/61/13 in 329 plate appearances in Triple-A and .293/9/26/25/7 in 171 plate appearances in the majors. After setting such a high bar for himself in 2011, Lawrie would largely be a disappointment—in both fantasy-baseball and non-fantasy-baseball circles—for the next three seasons. The underperformance came in both the form of health (he played in 125, 107, and 70 games in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, respectively) and offensive production (he posted OPSs of .729, .712, and .722, respectively, over the previously mentioned three season span). If there were any silver linings, they were (i) his abilities with the glove (which were questioned during his time as a prospect) and (ii) his gaining second-base eligibility for 2015 by playing 32 games at the keystone in 2014.

Then, as we all know (which makes us wonder why these words have been chosen by the author), Lawrie was figuratively shipped to the Oakland Athletics in a package of players for Josh Donaldson. With the trade being widely deemed a giant win for the Blue Jays, with many fantasy owners already having been burned by Lawrie underperforming their expectations for him, and with a change to less-hitter-friendly park, Lawrie entered 2015 with the best chance of his career at beating expectations and being a fantasy-baseball value.

2015 Thus Far

If you called Lawrie being a healthy version of the player he has been the last three years, then you have bragging rights when it comes to predictions about Brett Lawrie’s 2015 season and don’t let anyone tell you anything different. He has played in 123 games and roto-slashed .271/15/51/54/5. Some of the underlying numbers are different, interesting, and may have some predictive value, so let us now note them.

First, pitchers have thrown Lawrie far more breaking balls in 2015 than in any season prior. After seeing about 63% fastballs and 24% breaking balls the past four seasons, Lawrie has seen 56% fastballs and 32.04% braking balls this season. The results have been strange. Lawrie has swung and missed more on both fastballs and breaking balls; consequently, he currently has a career-high 23.6% strikeout rate. Already not known for patience at the plate, his walk rate now sits at a career-low 4.5%. All that said, he has posted the highest BABIP (.331) of his career by hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls while significantly cutting his infield-fly-ball rate. Lastly, this has led to a more modest home-run total than we would have expected if we had been told he would be mostly healthy through this point of the season. The power he has shown, though, does seem sustainable, as his 13.1% HR/FB rate is in line with his career norms.

All of this makes Lawrie pretty uninteresting from a fantasy-baseball standpoint. The one thing making him interesting, however, is that he just played his 18th game of the season at second base and should have second-base eligibility. Second base has become a bit barren in fantasy baseball in 2015, and Lawrie’s 15 home runs, 51 runs, and 54 RBI would rank third, 17th, and eighth, respectively, among second basemen this year. His .271 AVG will also certainly play, while his .304 OBP will play less well in leagues that use that stat.

What to Expect for the Rest of 2015

Lawrie’s past production—both this season and all seasons after 2011—indicates that he will continue to be a hitter who provides a .700-.750 OPS with some home runs and an infrequent steal here and there. He should continue to be a plus base runner, which helps with runs scored, but his times on base should continue to be limited by his low walk rate.

Pretty much, he looks to be what he has become. However, the underlying numbers mentioned earlier look to be cause for some concern. Maintaining a career-high BABIP by swinging, missing, and striking out more does not seem particularly sustainable to me. So while the counting stats and power production will probably continue at the same rate through season’s end, I would be betting on some lower AVG and OBP numbers the rest of the way.

The Great Beyond

This will be interesting because we have a couple of variables moving in different directions on us. The breakout we have all been hoping for seems less and less likely each year (and even sustaining his current production seems unlikely at this point), but we need to adjust for his increased positional value at second base. Most likely, Lawrie will continue to be what he is, albeit with second-base eligibility, which is enough to make him mixed-league relevant. There is still some upside (however low the probability), but it is important to not forget about the downside (the injury risk) after one healthy season. With all these variables needing to be weighed, it is players like Lawrie for whom I rely most on the valuation experts (Mr. Gianella) to determine how to value them each season.

All this is to say that Lawrie will be valued (under, properly, and over) differently across many leagues and will be so for 2016 and probably many seasons to come. The key is to be able to pass when he is overrated and ready to pounce when he is underrated rather than writing him off or targeting him. This can really be said about all players, but it is worth noting about Lawrie because he has both tantalized and burned so many fantasy owners over the years.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
There are a few encouraging trends regarding his plate discipline numbers. After a horrific start in bb/k rate in April/May, Lawrie gradually improved and is currently at 5/18 bb/k in the second half - not great, but more in line with his career norm. Also in leagues with deeper benches in which platoons are a little more helpful, his .292./340/.492 slash against lefties this year is certainly playable at 3b or 2b. I think he's still young enough to tap into some of that upside we saw early in his career, but that probably won't happen without him improving his patience.