Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Adam Lind, Hall of Famer?

Who is Adam Lind? His career has followed that same two-faced pattern that seems to fit so many Blue Jays hitters. One year, he's hitting .305 with 35 homers and 114 RBI; the next season, he's down to .237/23/32. Here in 2011, he's rebounded in a big way, batting .328 with 15 HR and 45 RBI in just 49 games. He could be in line for his first all-star selection, though the AL is overflowing with star first basemen, so probably not.

Lind broke in with the Jays for a cup of coffee at age 22, then followed that up with half-seasons in 2007 and 2008. At the time, he was regarded as a star prospect, but struggled to produce consistently off the bat. His power was solid, but his batting average and OBP weren't good enough for a left fielder. What's more, he could barely play left field.

Lind is now playing first base, and despite missing some time to injury in the first half of the season, has been raking since coming back off the DL. The question now, of course, is: is this the real Adam Lind?

I'm inclined to think so. No, not the .328 average - I don't think that's a fair expectation. But he can certainly be a guy who hits 35 homers through the rest of his prime years. Lind is just 27 so he could potentially sustain that sort of production for several years.

Where would that get him? As of today, Lind has a whopping 95 career homers. Suppose he can get to 35 this year - that's 115. Figure he stays healthy and averages 35 from ages 28-32; that's five seasons and brings him to 290. If he can average 25/year for four years after that - he's got 390 career homers at age 36.

If you want to make a Hall of Fame home run case without being a regular at a young age, you need to be hitting them out in 50s, like Ryan Howard has. Howard, of course, spent years waiting for Jim Thome to leave Philadelphia, only playing his first full season at age 26. Since then, he's assembled a total of 268 career jacks by age 31 - actually, not far off what we projected for Lind above. I'd say Howard has more pure power and will be able to keep it up a little longer, but 500 home runs will be a long way off for him, too.

This is a story we see again and again - if you want Hall of Fame numbers in the counting numbers, you'd better get started early. As with most players like Lind, the power doesn't really come through until the player has his 'man-strength' in his mid-late 20s. Younger than that, guys like Lind aren't athletic enough to be valuable defensively or hit for enough average to justify a full-time spot.

In a way, then, the 500-homer benchmark for HoF sluggers is about more than pure home runs - it's also a proxy for longevity. Obviously, one side of that is the ability to stay healthy and maintain power into a player's late thirties; on the other hand, it's also about being useful enough in your early twenties to get playing time before your power has fully developed.

Look at Justin Upton, for example. He averaged 19 homers in his first three full seasons - nothing too amazing - you'd want to see more than that from your right fielder in Arizona. But he's also bringing good defence and some stolen bases - enough that the team can play him at a young age. Adam Lind and his ilk can't offer that at a young age despite the fact that they might turn out to be equally productive power hitters in their prime years.

So, there you have it. Hitting 500 home runs is about more than power. It's partly about bringing other skills to the table that get you in the lineup before you're strong enough to hit 30 a year.

No comments: