Unless it's from an established name, it's obviously extremely important to take hot starts to the season with several grains of salt. Too often, it seems that we see stellar offensive performances from unexpected sources that come to an abrupt and disappointing end. Even so, it's hard to ignore what Jake Lamb has done for an Arizona Diamondbacks offense that has excelled in the early going, even if their pitching and defense has led them to a disappointing 2-3 start to the young 2016 campaign. In the case of Lamb, don't expect it to come to an end anytime soon.
There's a basis for it. Lamb missed a good chunk of the season last year, notching only 390 plate appearances through 107 games primarily because of a foot injury. But when he was in the lineup, he was a steady presence. He reached base at a .331 clip, which benefited from a 9.2 percent walk rate and a .344 BABIP. While the immediate tendency is to look at that BABIP and declare regression, that may not necessarily be the case in regard to Jake Lamb, who maintains a quality approach and makes solid contact at a high rate.
The approach is obvious, given Lamb's ability to draw free passes. His walk rate ranked seventh among MLB third basemen who had at least 350 plate appearances (since Lamb obviously didn't have enough to qualify). He's off to another strong start in that regard this year, walking at a 9.5 percent clip, though it's through only four games. An extremely patient hitter, among those 34 third basemen who had at least 350 PAs, Lamb ranked 31st in his swing rate, at 42.6. He swung at pitches outside the strike zone only 26.1 percent of the time, which ranked 27th among that same group. He swung and missed at just 9.8 percent of pitches, which came in 17th among those members of the hot corner.
That patience alone bodes well for Jake Lamb moving forward. Additionally, the type of contact he's making should allow him to reach base consistently at a high level and maintain a solid BABIP, rather than see a tremendous fall from that .344 figure from last season.
Lamb made hard contact 36.3 percent of the time last year, ranking fifth among MLB third basemen. Lamb fancies himself (and here's a nice piece from FanGraphs with Lamb attesting for his skill set) not only a line-drive hitter, but an up-the-middle/opposite field guy as well. His line drive rate of 22.7 percent, which ranked 10th, and 26.6 oppo rate, which came in 12th, would certainly seem to lend themselves to that very idea. Both of those ideas would seem to indicate that a significant regression from that .344 figure wouldn't be in the cards for Lamb, and that he should be able to continue a solid average on balls in play moving forward. Because people like visuals, here's a nice one from Baseball Savant:
There's certainly some support for the idea of Lamb as a line-drive hitter last year, and he managed to get that solid contact across the field. Sure, there are some pull tendencies brought upon by his swing from last year, but we should see him go the other way even more this season, as he created a local buzz during the spring when he noted that he altered his swing quite significantly (which we'll touch on in a moment).
We've established that Jake Lamb is a good hitter. He maintains a consistent approach that allows him to reach base via the walk, and he consistently makes quality contact. That alone makes him an exciting presence in a Diamondbacks lineup that is going to continue to need secondary offensive production in the absence of A.J. Pollock. The real question for Lamb, moving forward, is whether or not we should see an uptick from him as far as the power game is concerned.
Lamb posted an ISO of only .123 last year, with six homers, 15 doubles, and an additional five triples. Much of that has been attributed to his foot injury that not only limited his actual appearances last year, but sapped some of that power as well. In addition to health, his new swing could very well be a factor in that ISO steadily increasing (for what it's worth, it's at .286 through the first four games of 2016). Here's a quality writeup from our friends at AZ Snake Pit in 2015 on what Lamb's swing was last year. With those hands as high as they are, Lamb admittedly felt like he was often chopping at the ball. And yet, he was still making consistent and solid contact.
With his new swing, in which his hands have come down, he should continue those tendencies for hard, line-drive contact but also create a bit more lift when he does make contact. In turn, a few more balls should be leaving the yard.
While the pitching, and even the defense to an extent, has been a source of frustration for the Diamondbacks through their disappointing start, the play of Jake Lamb certainly hasn't contributed to that frustration. He's continued to make solid contact and maintain that good approach. The good news is that he was already capable of doing that before he altered his swing. With a new swing that should allow for harder and even more consistent contact, we could definitely see Lamb as a breakout player in 2016. That certainly isn't news to anyone who's followed him in the past couple of seasons, both at the minor and Major League level.
But it may just be time to get ready to check out Jake Lamb on a national level, because he isn't going anywhere.
**Statistics via FanGraphs
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.