Monday, July 6, 2015

Braves Pick Up Minor League Southpaw

I'm a NASCAR fan. Not a fanatic, but a fan. So I was at my computer checking Twitter instead of sleeping while the rain-delayed race continued well into the night. As tweets about the race occupied a lot of my feed, a story about another Braves acquisition showed up. News broke last night that the Braves had pulled off a trade with the Astros. No, they weren't acquiring Jacob Nottingham, though he made my recent article posted today at About. Instead, they had picked up Mitchell Lambson. They will send the Astros cash considerations. That term has always amused me.

So, who is this Lambson guy? Born in Oregon in July of 1990, Lambson went undrafted out of high school and attended Arizona State. It was there that he was drafted in the 19th round of 2011. Nobody from that round and year has made it to the majors just yet. Also, if you just can't help be fascinated by weird things like me, you might ponder just who was the Braves pick that year in the 19th round? Troy Snitker. If that last name sounds familiar, it's because Troy is Brian Snitker's son. The elder Snitker was then the third base coach and is the current manager at Gwinnett. Ah, nepotism. To tie this up, the younger Snitker has returned to his alma mater of North Georgia University as a graduate assistant coach.

Lambson skipped rookie ball and headed to short-season A Tri-City after signing. He appeared in 22 games out of the pen and gave up a few too many homers, but struck out over a batter an inning. With his great control, the lefty posted a 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As we found out later, that wouldn't be abnormal.

Over his career, Lambson has steadily climbed the ladder toward the majors. On May 23rd, he made his AAA debut and has held his own in a much more difficult league to pitch in than the International League. In 150 games - all in relief - Lambson has ratios such as 9.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and 0.6 HR/9. A deeper dive into his numbers highlights a few interesting things, courtesy of minorleaguecentral.com.

At first, and you know this if you follow me on twitter (and you should), Lambson appears like a pitcher without any platoon preference. It could even be argued he has reverse splits. This is what happens when you cycle through each year's splits while focusing on things like opposing OPS for a simple reference. A bigger look unlocks some better information. Lambson does show a platoon preference (though not a huge one) and it's how you would expect a lefthander's numbers to go. Here is a few career numbers of interest.
vs. L 2.21 2.49 39.6% .352 27.3% 3.4% 1.19
vs. R 2.91 2.96 33.6% .275 27.2% 7.5% 1.10
Simply put, the more you know, the better you are to make an observation. My quick observation from last night was lacking. What stands out to me (along with this person you should also follow) is that BABIP against lefties is ridiculously high. But sample size probably has a lot to do with it. It's weird that he's ran a high BABIP every season against lefties, but several instances of something does not in itself make a trend. It does make us wonder, of course. I'm inclined to believe a higher LD% rate is the bigger culprit and a 5% difference between splits there can lead to a lot of balls falling to the ground rather than harmlessly into someone's glove. Still, the deeper numbers push us toward believing he is more dominant against lefties.

Speaking of dominance, that's all that can be discerned regardless of the split. There's a lot to like in these numbers so did the Braves get someone ultra cheap? Let's look at the scouting report.

While his numbers scream dominance, his stuff doesn't. He stays in the high 80s and has to bring it to crack 90 mph. That's odd in today's world of triple digit velocity. To make up for that, Lambson uses his changeup often to both get ahead and get out hitters and it's a damn good one. For someone of his limitations to get by with a changeup like that, you have to believe he's both repeating his delivery and showing no sign of a changeup leaving his fingers which in itself is an accomplishment for young pitchers. As you might notice with the pic I used and a look at this one, the southpaw hides the ball well, which only adds to the batter's difficulty. Lambson depends on intelligence and deception, which should not be taken to mean he doesn't have the stuff and control to get out batters. But because he lacks that awe-inspiring velocity or excellent breaking ball, Lambson won't make many prospect lists. He probably should - especially organizational reliever lists. He has been superb throughout his career and at this point, you can't argue that it's just pure luck.

Atlanta certainly could use a lefty for their pen. They currently are relying on Luis Avilan who, for what it's worth, is a lot better against lefties than fans want to believe. But that's all Avilan is - a decent, but not great, option against left-hand batters who is substandard against righties. Andrew McKirahan, the Rule 5 pick that he is, showed good numbers in the minors regardless of split and is due back from suspension shortly after the All-Star Break. The Braves have every reason to see what they have with McKirahan and whether he can build on a decent enough three-game start earlier this year to potentially be a part of the 2016 picture. With Lambson, they have another option. They could even go to three lefties when McKirahan returns (or when they decide to bring up Lambson). Either way, getting Lambson was a smart low-cost, high-reward deal for the Braves front office and I think this may be one with John Coppolella's fingerprints all over it. If so, I feel good about what happens when John Hart cedes control to Coppy.

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