Given a chance to rejuvenate his career with the Braves, Jake Lamb is focused on maintaining the same aggressive hitting approach that helped him become an All-Star in 2017.
Accounting for what he has endured the past couple years, Lamb should also be looking forward to seeing his batting average rest well above .100. In 2020, he hit just .116 (5-for-43) with a .380 OPS over 18 games before the D-backs released him in September.
Lamb’s ability to land a job this winter developed when he ended last year by hitting .250 with three homers and a .804 OPS over 17 games (postseason included) for the A’s. Those aren’t exactly eye-popping numbers, but he was productive enough to entice the Braves into giving him a one-year, $1 million deal.
If Lamb regains his 2016-17 form, when he hit .248 with 59 homers and an .843 OPS for the D-backs, the deal will be considered a bargain. But if he extends his recent struggles, the deal might be viewed as a necessary gamble for a team that desperately needed to upgrade its bench.
“He’s played really good at third, and he’s had good at-bats,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re just going to keep running those guys out there for a couple weeks and see where we’re at.”
When the Braves signed Lamb, they said they envisioned him filling a backup role. But along with strengthening the bench with his left-handed power potential, the 30-year-old veteran could also serve as insurance for Austin Riley at third base.
But for Lamb to provide value in any role, he must prove he is not the guy who has hit .205 with 15 homers and a .660 OPS in 165 games since the start of 2018.
Lamb had a left rotator cuff issue that limited him to 56 games in 2018. He strained his left quadriceps muscle less than two weeks into the ‘19 season. But he says the struggles he endured while hitting .193 with a .676 OPS that year were primarily a product of not properly recovering from the previous season’s shoulder issue.
So, what happened last year?
“Physically, I felt better than I ever have,” Lamb said. “That’s just me getting off to a bad start and not getting it done and getting benched. Then, I got my time with Oakland, which was a blessing.”
When Lamb hit 30 homers with an .844 OPS in 2017, his average exit velocity was 88.7 mph and his hard-hit rate (balls in play at 95 mph or higher) was 43.4 percent. As he struggled last year, his average exit velo was 90.2 mph and his hard-hit rate was 50.8 percent.
Lamb actually had a higher average exit velocity and hard-hit rate with Arizona (91.6 mph and 62 percent) than he did over a similar number of plate appearances for Oakland (89.1 mph and 43.2 percent). But his strikeout rate was much higher with the D-backs (34 percent) than it was with the A’s (16.3 percent).
Now, Lamb is tasked with proving his encouraging finish with the A’s did indeed position him to be one of those key pieces the Braves needed to take another step this year.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I could play, but I also wanted to go to a winning team,” Lamb said. “Watching this team on TV and watching them from afar, it’s no joke. They have what it takes to get to a World Series and hopefully win a World Series.”