Brett Lawrie was once a darling in fantasy baseball circles. He was supposed to be the next five-tool guy at a position where those guys are scarce. Alas, Lawrie has never lived up to the hype, due in large part to an inability to remain healthy. If you tend to believe that staying healthy is a skill, then being wary of Lawrie is entirely understandable. But can the move to Oakland's natural grass surface lend itself to better overall health for the oft-injured infielder? Steamer seems to think so, as Lawrie is currently projected for career highs in games played (130) and home runs (17). For a guy who has shown the ability to hit double-digit totals in the power and speed categories, Lawrie is a guy we should at least do some research on. I need to find out for myself if he is worthy of a later pick.
What is intriguing about Lawrie is his consensus rank at FantasyPros. He is currently the 240th player selected on average, which is a rock-bottom Round 20 average draft position (ADP). That is dirt cheap for a guy who carries 2B and 3B eligibility in some leagues. And cheap for a guy who can theoretically hit home runs and steal some bases (though he made 0 attempts last season). He's being taken as the 25th third baseman at the moment, sandwiched between such luminaries as Martin Prado and Lonnie Chisenhall. No offense to those two guys, but that's pretty flipping cheap!
So what's to love besides the ADP and the positional eligibility? Last year, his HR/FB ratio spiked to 14.5 percent, which was Lawrie's highest mark since his very brief rookie season. It's interesting because Lawrie has historically been around the league average in this department, and last year's mark of 14.5% is more in line with that of a home run hitter. Please see the chart below (courtesy of Fangraphs) for a general guide:
Lawrie is at 11.6% for his career, but last year's mark was well above the previous two years, which were 9.0% and 9.6% respectively. So this is intriguing, but I'm also taking it with a grain of salt given his career average.
Now for the speed component. Once touted as a five-tool guy, Lawrie has failed to live up to his billing. He's only attempted 29 stolen bases in his big league career, and was successful on a paltry 14 attempts. I'm no math whiz but if he goes 1 for 1 to begin 2015, that's a 50 percent success rate. Which is pretty darn horrible. When you consider that Lawrie attempted zero steals in 2014, I believe it's safe to assume that the days of him stealing 13 bags (2012) are way in the rearview mirror. Steamer does project 7 steals, for what it's worth. But even that mark isn't a whole lot to get excited about.
Lawrie's 2014 splits were a little concerning. He's carries a .264 batting average versus righties and is at .265 versus lefties in his career. However, in 2014 he really struggled against lefties to the tune of a .197 average, but was right in line with his career norm at .263 versus righty pitchers. That dragged his overall batting average down to .247, and is concerning for a guy who is pretty league average in the on-base percentage department. If this trend continues and Lawrie is a drain on batting average while also not running a whole lot, I'm afraid you are solely dependent on his power stroke finally arriving if you are looking for value. And that seems a dicey proposition.
I recently participated in two auction drafts to kick off my own fake seasons. Lawrie was a name called towards the end of both, and a player I hoped to land as a cheap bench bat--in the hopes that he might finally remain healthy, hit some home runs, and maybe steal some bases. Unfortunately, Lawrie was too highly sought after by a few managers, and his price was a bloated $9 in one league. I was able to snag him for only $4 in the other, however, and that is about as high as I care to go for a guy who hasn't shown any consistency to me. In summation: Lawrie is intriguing, but paying an expectant price for his services is not a strategy I would advise heading into 2015.