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.
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?