First Pitch: It’s Not Time to Free Andrew Lambo…Yet

#FreeAndrewLambo? Not yet. Photo Credit: David Hague.

#FreeAndrewLambo? Not yet. Photo Credit: David Hague.

Andrew Lambo went 3-for-3 with a double and a walk tonight. In his 17 games with Indianapolis he has a .317/.397/.698 line in 63 at-bats, with six homers.

Travis Snider currently has a .233/.304/.350 line in 206 at-bats in the majors. He started off hot, with a .300 average and a .799 OPS in April. However, he dropped to a .675 OPS in May, and a .492 OPS so far in June.

#FreeAndrewLambo?

Not yet. For one, Lambo has just 63 at-bats. That’s where Voros’ Law comes into play, with the theory that “Any major league hitter can hit just about anything in 60 at bats.” I’m not sure how that applies to minor league hitters, but I think the underlying message is that 60 at-bats is too small of a sample size to draw any conclusions. In this case, Lambo is crushing the ball, but the sample size is too small to say he needs to go up and replace Travis Snider.

If you want to talk about a larger sample size, Lambo did have a .291/.351/.559 line and 14 homers in 220 at-bats in Double-A. The problem with those numbers is that they come with the disclaimer that Lambo has spent parts of six seasons in Double-A. He entered the season with over 1100 at-bats at the level. He wasn’t exactly an organizational guy, since he’s only 24-years-old, but he had the experience of an organizational guy. His numbers with Indianapolis are going to be more telling than his numbers in Altoona this year. The question is, at what point do the Pirates consider his numbers legit?

If you look at the stabilization points for offensive numbers, you’re talking almost two years worth of numbers needed before we’d get a true idea of what Lambo is capable of. The Pirates obviously don’t have that time, and that’s also not an approach that is best taken in the minors, since players usually move up after half a season or a full season of good performance.

If we go by precedent, the Pirates have several options to choose from. Brock Holt only had 95 at-bats in Triple-A before being called up to the majors. Of course he was called up when rosters expanded in September, and he hasn’t lived up to his previous numbers this year, with a .649 OPS in Triple-A. Starling Marte got 388 at-bats in Triple-A. Pedro Alvarez got 242 the first time around. Jose Tabata got 358. Lambo isn’t close to the quality of prospect that any of those guys were.

I think if you look at Brock Holt, you see the downside of promoting someone so soon. Holt was crushing Triple-A in a limited number of at-bats, much like Lambo is right now. He was respectable in the majors, with a .682 OPS. And now he’s struggling after more time in Triple-A. I’m not saying those struggles will continue, but he’s clearly not the “2012 Indianapolis” Brock Holt.

On the flip side, the Pirates are in a difficult situation. They’ve got a need for offense, and a glaring hole in right field. You could upgrade right field by going with a platoon, but even if you find someone who can hit left-handers, Snider is still struggling against right-handers lately. Lambo is a guy who has always hit right-handers well, and has struggled against lefties. He’s not horrible against left-handers, but he’s probably still a platoon option (he has a 1.042 OPS this year vs RHP, with 16 of his 20 homers, compared to a .708 OPS vs LHP). The Pirates might need to upgrade over Snider, and they might need to find out what they have in Lambo sooner, rather than later.

So what do you do? You don’t want to call Lambo up now, because he’s still adjusting to Triple-A pitching, and Triple-A pitching is still adjusting to him. How will he perform once pitchers know how to pitch to him and know his weaknesses? At the same time you can’t wait 200-300 at-bats, because that takes you into August and September, which is past the point of the trade deadline. Or can you wait that long?

If they called up Lambo today, and he performs well, he might get around 60-75 at-bats in the majors before the deadline. As we saw with Snider this year, that doesn’t prove anything. Snider played well in April, but hasn’t played well since. The Pirates couldn’t be comfortable with Lambo after just one month (shortened by the All-Star break). They definitely couldn’t be comfortable enough to say that no upgrade would be needed with Lambo on the roster.

So that leaves two options. The first option is that you find a team who believes in Lambo, and try to deal him for an upgrade. Long-term, you probably won’t miss him. The Pirates have one open outfield spot, and the hope is that Gregory Polanco claims that spot by this time next year. To use the Wandy Rodriguez trade as a reference, Lambo probably wouldn’t be the Robbie Grossman of any deal, but he could be the Rudy Owens — a good number two prospect in a three prospect deal that doesn’t see any of the top prospects in the system traded away.

The other option is keeping Lambo, then calling him up in September as an extra bat off the bench. If he performs well, you’ve got three options, and could consider him as a platoon option next year until Polanco is ready. Best case scenario he becomes the new Garrett Jones, only younger and cheaper, and can take over the platoon at first base until the Pirates find an everyday guy.

The Pirates need an upgrade in right field. But because of where we are in the season, the Pirates won’t have enough time to know whether Lambo is that upgrade, even if he was called up tomorrow. They can’t be comfortable with him beyond the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, no matter how he’s performing. He has more value right now as a potential trade chip, or an extra bench bat when rosters expand in September. If he doesn’t get traded by the deadline, then I’d say September would be the time to #FreeAndrewLambo.

Links and Notes

**We’ve been doing the weekly podcasts, but we’re also starting something new: Google Hangouts. James Santelli will be hosting them. This week we had Pat Lackey (WHYGAVS), Brian McElhinny (Raise the Jolly Roger), Jim Rosati (North Side Notch), Cory Weibel (Three Rivers Burgh Blog), plus our own James Santelli and Tom Bragg. Check out the first show here: Pirates Roundtable Live – Episode 1. We’re hoping to make this a weekly thing, with new guests each week.

**The next episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast will be uploaded in the morning. Check out last week’s episode here: P3 Episode 10: More Stanton Talk and Should Polanco Be Called Up This Year?

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

**Pirates Sign Austin Meadows.

**Pirates Agree With Third Round Pick JaCoby Jones.

**Prospect Watch: Good Starts From Taillon and Glasnow; Lambo Continues Hot Streak.

**Jameson Taillon Effective for Seven Innings, Even Without Best Stuff.

**West Virginia Downs Lakewood Behind Glasnow and Steranka.

**GCL Notes: First Impressions of Shortstop Trae Arbet.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Beat Tigers, Win In 13 Innings Over Marlins.

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia Gets His Second Start.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

    I think you have to call him up now. The more ABs he can get before the end of the year, the easier it is to evaluate him for next year. If he does well, he could be showcased for a trade in the offseason. If not, they’ll know that they need to grab someone to man RF until Polanco is ready.

  • emjayinTN

    Andrew Lambo??? Just so it will be easier, Snider played parts of 4 years at AAA and averaged .333/.412/.565/.976; Lambo part of 2 seasons and his average in AAA .208/.284/.384/.667. Not even close. Why are Lambo’s numbers so good this year and his averages so bad? The last time he hit AAA with the Pirates was in 2011 and posted .184/.257/.292/.549.

    That is just stats which would overwhelmingly favor Travis Snider, but when you have a team 18 games above .500 and still 3 games away from mid-season, the last thing a manager wants to see is switchouts of players which may cause a negative overall effect in the clubhouse. Hey, don’t blame me, but ballplayers and Managers do not want to change anything when they are on a roll. These guys are unreal when it comes to superstitions. Snider has ZERO errors and 3 OF Assists and his average is down in June but the team is on a hot streak – unless it is broke, don’t fix it. Now, when you consider what the Pirates expected from players going into the year, you have to paint the biggest target around Garrett Jones – he is struggling, but as long as the Bucs are posting W’s, don’t mess with it. Yep, June is the 3rd straight month at .500+; do that 4 or 5 times a year and the playoffs are a reality

    • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

      I’m not suggesting getting rid of Snider. He has, however, failed at his “shot”. He seems to play well as a fourth outfielder, indeed, his biggest hits this year have been off the bench. Lambo had a hamate injury and his recovery from this would explain his surge in stats. Give him a chance in the Inge role, I say, although this will never happen.

    • stickyweb

      MJinTN, Good research on those AAA numbers. But over 90% of Sniders AAA numbers were in Las Vegas so you can either discount them drastically or throw them out completely. And saying Lambo’s AAA numbers at 22 or as important as his current AAA numbers at 24 seems wrong.

      That said, I strongly agree with your superstitious/don’t fix it if it ain’t broken argument. Tabby’s coming back, so use him against all LHP (I know he’s not great there, but he’ll be better than Snider) and maybe Snider’s numbers perk up only facing righties. Or Tabby gets hot and you play him against everybody for a while. Either way, no need to make a move now. There’ll always be Morse/Rios/Willingham/Byrd/other RH RFs to get before the deadline if you need to.

      Also, can we stop saying Lambo’s played parts of 6 seasons in AA. While technically correct, one of those partial seasons was 8 games and another was 26. The 1100 ABs works out to about 2 1/2 seasons, still a lot of time at one level, but with the injuries and time at different levels mixed in, not ridiculous. And he’s still age appropriate for AAA (actually youngest position player on the roster, but that probably says more about everyone else than him).

      And lastly, the difference between “targeting” Jones instead of Snider seems pretty obvious; Jones has actually contributed something to this team for the last few years. Snider still has potential to contribute (and I actually like him and loved the deal…BTW where are the guys that cried about losing Lincoln just a year ago) but until he does, he’s fair game.

  • https://profiles.google.com/113824087346904673399 Dom DiDominic

    Figuring we see Tabata today & Sanchez sent back down. That being said, go to Lambo the next time we could have gone to Presley. Not a savior in RF, just a bat that should get a shot next time.
    I don’t see them pulling off a huge trade. Willingham/Marlin Byrd type guy maybe.
    Still not convinced Inge should be on this team. When we can go to Harrison or Lambo (now that Tabs is back).

    • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

      I think Tabby is still a few days away from completing his rehab. They will need someone for a few days. It will probably be Harrison, but I wish it was Lambo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.smalley.35 Andrew Smalley

    I presume the Pirates are less inclined to go w/ Lambo than many Pirate fans, thankfully. While I don’t doubt his power, i do doubt his ability for the power to play at the Major League level. Beating up on AA for 6 seasons and 60 some at-bats in AAA…..doesn’t change the equation.

    These “Free (Player X)” have a history of being flops, from my perspective. I remember when all the rage was “Free Alex Presley”, then it was “Free Matt Hague”, and then the “Free Byran Morris” train got going. Presley is back at AAA, Hague was back even quicker, and, Morris – while having a bright future and a decent present – is not anything (yet) that most of the “Free Morris” proponents would have led you to believe.

    “Freeing Jordy Mercer” is the only one I can remember being a success, and, even that is very early to tell and partially based because the guy he was replacing can’t hit enough to be valuable – despite being the 2nd best SS in the game.

    I’m thinking, instead of shouting “Free Lambo”, we instead acknowledge that this FO has a better idea of when/if these cats are ready. Let’s be honest: No one in RF is blocking anyone. If there was even the slightest chance that Lambo was the *answer*, he would already be ‘free’.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      You’re also forgetting Jeff Locke and Starling Marte.

  • JayhawkDuke

    I’m curious why Lambo is considered expendable. It wasn’t THAT long ago that he was a top 100 prospect. He’s dealt with some off-the-field issues (if I recall correctly) and obviously some injuries. He’s only 24 and in AAA. He’s had a couple pretty bad seasons, but it’s obvious he’s finally healthy. He hasn’t had any off-the-field issues. I’m not saying he’s the answer in right for the Pirates right now, but I don’t know if I don’t value him more than Robbie Grossman. He is certainly demonstrating more power than Grossman ever did, and he comes with more pedigree based on his top-100 ranking several years ago. I guess all I’m saying is I wouldn’t want the FO to make Lambo a throw-away prospect in a trade for a half-season rental in right field.

    Tim: Are you hearing things from scouts regarding Lambo’s future potential (or lack thereof), or is his relatively low prospect ranking based solely on his lack of performance the last few years? IF Lambo is finally healthy and the power is legit, wouldn’t his value be considerably higher?

    • Cato the Elder

      2 words: Gregory Polanco.

      • JayhawkDuke

        Gregory Polanco is obviously the long-term answer in the outfield. I just feel Lambo has more value than Tim indicates above. If Polanco wasn’t in the back of everybody’s mind, I think Lambo’s “breakout” season would be viewed a lot differently. He’s played some first base in his career, and if Jones continues his recent struggles, Lambo could provide some value to the major league club.

    • maguro

      Lambo hasn’t been a top prospect since 2008, which is really long time in prospect terms.

      • JayhawkDuke

        He was #49 on BA’s top-100 prior to the 2009 season and #3 on Fangraph’s top-10 Dodgers prospects prior to 2010 (and I found it interesting when reading back that he actually had better splits against LHPs prior to the 2010 season). That IS a long time in prospect terms, but he had a pretty bad run of injuries the last few years.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    I would like to see the Pirates give Lambo a shot and see if they have something in him or not. You cannot compare players, strictly on comparing their numbers – these guys are not robots. You cannot account for the human element by comparing all of these various metrics – you cannot factor in things like self confidence, maturity, etc.

    It seems to me, besides his injuries, Lambo has grown up a lot this year – and it shows in his performance to date. I don’t know if he can excel at the MLB level, but I would like to see the Pirates give him that shot – before making a trade, trading him, etc. I’m rooting for this kid (I am 53 – so, I can call a 24 year old a kid!).

  • buster09

    Just do NOT play him at 1st base,please !

  • leadoff

    No matter what is said about Lambo, the underlying non stat is still the most important part of this discussion.
    All players mature, I know there is no stat for that, but he could be much more mature than he was 2 years ago, I don’t know, Mercer certainly did make a big jump in maturity in one year.
    How lucky is he hitting? I saw him in Florida, but players change a lot when it counts. Are his hits legit?
    Another item about him is that he hit well at Altoona, something that is not always easy to do and he is hitting well at Indy where the fences are a long way off, Indy is a big ballpark.