First Pitch: What To Do With Andrew Lambo?

Andrew Lambo was the Pirates' Minor League Player of the Year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Andrew Lambo was the Pirates’ Minor League Player of the Year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

One of the most surprising things about the upcoming off-season is how little attention Andrew Lambo has received. In Lambo, the Pirates had a 24-year-old outfielder who combined for 33 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors in 2013. In his very limited time in the majors he hit for a .703 OPS, spanning 30 at-bats. The Pirates have holes at first base and right field. Lambo has experience at both spots, with most of his experience coming in the outfield.

In previous years, it would have been a guarantee that Lambo would have been seen as a starter for the following season. But will that be the case in 2014?

I think a big reason why Lambo isn’t seen as a guaranteed starter next year is because he wasn’t a starter this year. The Pirates had plenty of opportunities to call up Lambo to try and solve their problem in right field. They eventually did call him up, although only for a brief time, as Jose Tabata started on a hot streak, and they needed a roster spot. A few weeks later they traded for Marlon Byrd, which meant there was going to be very little playing time for Lambo, especially with Tabata still doing well.

There’s a big reason Lambo wasn’t thrown into the fire in 2013, and that was because the Pirates were contending. While you could argue that he couldn’t have done worse than the current right field options, throwing a rookie with a lot of question marks into the starting lineup isn’t the best idea during a playoff race.

You can understand why the Pirates wouldn’t give Lambo a lot of playing time in that situation. But the reality is that the Pirates need to eventually give Lambo and prospects like Lambo a shot. This was easier to do when the team wasn’t winning. You could throw an unproven prospect in the lineup during the middle of a breakout season. If he ends up being legit, you get closer to winning. If he doesn’t work out, then you’re still losing. But it’s harder to take this risk when you’re a winning team, especially when you’ve got money to spend to try and get established players over the off-season.

It’s too early to tell what the Pirates will do with Lambo, their first base, or their right field situation this off-season. They literally could do pretty much anything due to the small amount of needs they have, and the money they have available. Even with the money, and the ability to spend to get an established right fielder, I think they should give Lambo a shot.

First of all, there’s the question of where to play him. Technically Lambo could be an option at first base. However, he has limited playing time at the position, and his defense would be poor as a result of that limited time. The Pirates also have a hole in right field, which is where Lambo is better suited.

The issue with right field is that, in the long-term, the Pirates will be starting Gregory Polanco in that spot. That’s going to lead a lot of people to say that Lambo should move to first base, since his future with the Pirates probably isn’t going to be in the outfield. I would lean the other way with this thinking. I’m a believer that Polanco is going to be an impact player, and the third starting outfielder in Pittsburgh. But until the Pirates have three outfielders in Pittsburgh, they shouldn’t be moving anyone.

Also, if Polanco is the future, then the Pirates have a limited window to see what they’ve got with the other players on their roster.┬áThis limited window could be used to sign a stopgap free agent, such as bringing back Marlon Byrd or signing another free agent right fielder. Or it could be a chance to see what the Pirates have with Lambo, and to see if Jose Tabata’s late season hot streak was legit.

The best thing about this approach is that it gives the Pirates options. If Lambo doesn’t succeed, they can turn to Tabata. If neither player succeeds, they can call up Polanco. If Lambo does well, and Polanco is ready, then that’s the time to discuss moving Lambo to first base. Or, the Pirates could use Lambo and/or Tabata as trade bait if they’re doing well and Polanco is knocking on the door.

I wrote last week about how the Pirates can’t abandon the plan that got them here. That plan involved trusting young, unproven players over more expensive players with a better track record. In this case they’ve got an outfielder who hit 33 home runs at the age of 24. You have to give him a shot to see if that power is legit. With Polanco arriving soon, the window for Lambo to get an opportunity is small. If the Pirates don’t give him a shot this year, then they might not find another chance to see what they’ve got with him. Lambo might not work out in the majors, but the Pirates can never pass up the chance to see if a guy who hits 33 home runs is legit.

Links and Notes

**James Loney Makes the Most Sense For the Pirates at First Base

**Jose Abreu Expected to Be Finalizing Deal With the White Sox

**AFL Recap: Alex Dickerson Has Two Hits in Loss

**Josh Bell Could Be a Top 100 Prospect Next Year

**Pittsburgh Pirates Sign Three Players From Mexico

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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  • CalipariFan506

    Personally I don’t think Polanco got enough time in Altoona. So IMO unless he’s killing it at AAA he’s joule play a full season there to get 500+ PAs.

    I also don’t think we have given Snider a fair shake. So to me that’s RF again.

    With Lambo I’d pencil him in at 1B now with Gaby. If we get a James Loney or trade then option Lambo. He didn’t have much time at AAA.

    • lawdog

      I agree with you about Polanco, I think people are getting way over excited. He will probably spend the season at AAA unless he really hits well. I disagree about Snider, he righted the ship a little after his injury, but he hardly did not get “a fair shake” He started for over half a season and hit .240 with four HR’s. He was a good pitch hitter but is out of options and I would rather see Lambo in RF. Snider may make it as the fifth OF, but might have to have a big spring training to do so.

  • CalipariFan506

    Now I realize I’ve got to be the only one not ready to get rid of Snider. But I didn’t think ce gave Moss a fair shot either. Snider is better than Moss to me. He needs health and opportunity, just like Moss.

    • NorCal Buc

      I too like Snider. I agree with the playing time for him. Re: Moss, this team was not comprised well to suit Moss. We could NOT wait for Moss to develop. We were committed to development time for CF (Cutch), 3rd (Pedro), 2nd (Neil) and LF (Tabby). He was the odd guy out, so to speak. I wholeheartedly agree about the potential for Snider. I’ve already seen his steady plate approach, be it taking pitches, swinging simply for a single, or pulling the ball deep into RF.

  • TonyPenaforHOF

    I think Lambo should be one of the options but the team should keep looking. How about another option: moving Walker to platoon and first. With his average defense and Sanchez as a platoon partner if they can get a good second baseman it may be worth the move.

    • NorCal Buc

      Regarding Walker, I’ve thought about the following: What IF Pedro indeed takes his balls elsewhere (Boras attitude), by not signing long term?

      Well then, in 2015, we may be shopping him at the deadline, or over that 2012-16 winter. What could we get for Pedro? I’d think then of returning Walker to 3rd, especially if he can continue to improve, albeit lacking against LHP.

      • NorCal Buc

        *2015-16 winter (of course)

    • impliedi

      That’s an interesting idea. The problem becomes that if you’re taking up one of your “offensive” positions of 1B with a mediocre hitter in Walker, than it would be imperative to get huge production out of your second baseman. I would think it would be much, much easier to find a guy with offense on the open market (or internally) at 1B, than at 2B.

  • emjayinTN

    Lambo played 19 games at 1B in 2013 and recorded 4 errors. He had not played 1B since 2008 because he is not a good defensive 1B. If your team is built around ground balls and infield play, you want an excellent fielding 1B. He may be OK as a possible relief OF with LH bench strength, or a possible candidate to trade to an AL team where he can get regular use as a LH DH.

    • stickyweb

      I think he had not played 1B since 2008 because he’s an OF and there wasn’t a need to move to 1B. OF is a more demanding position, and any capable OF should be able to become a capable 1B enough work.

      Are you really relegating a 24 year old that just hit 33 HRs at the highest minor league levels to 4th or 5th OF and a PH? And where’d the LH DH for an AL team come from? Can he no longer play OF either?

      • emjayinTN

        Stick: He was drafted as a 1B/OF in 2007. In baseball, if you can be a solid defender at 1B, that is where you will stay, except in special situations. He was not a solid defender so he went to the OF. It is possible for a 1B to go to the OF without much of a problem, but it does not happen where an OF can go and learn 1B after 5 years of not playing the position.

        I was a Lambo fan before he was a Pirate – he played for the Dodgers right down the road in Chattanooga in AA and hit 39 doubles and 11 HR’s. If I remember correctly, he had a little bit of a weed problem and became expendable from the Dodgers. The Pirates waited for him to prove his worth, but it never materialized until now.

        The Pirates will win with pitching and defense, and Lambo is standing in front of a fast moving locomotive called Gregory Polanco. His best chance to do more for a team will be in the AL where his defensive issues can be mitigated by using him as an OF, and a LH DH. That’s exactly the same circumstance with Garrett Jones – he has a chance in the AL – his D at 1B is average at best and smart money buys a strong defensive 1B who can help the other infielders look better, and that is why I favor Justin Morneau and Gaby Sanchez.

  • impliedi

    I would think at a minimum, Andrew Lambo replaces Garrett Jones on the Pirates roster next year. As much as many of us are fans of Jones (it’s always cool to see a guy who is stuck in one place seemingly going nowhere, sign elsewhere and flourish for a little while), Lambo probably gives you at least the same offense (with a potential for a lot more) as Jones, but cost nearly $5 million less (depending on what amount Jones would get in arb). Which is $5 million more towards what the Pirates can spend trying to land a 1B or RF. I know Lambo doesn’t have much experience at 1B, but they should get him plenty of reps there during spring training and make him the relief guy at 1B during the early part of the season, while giving him a chance to win the RF job.

    • blackmax

      I wouldn’t count on Lambo being at least as productive as Jones was in 2013. There’s a big difference between AAA pitching and MLB stuff.

  • leadoff

    Huntington did say that some change would could come from free agents, trades or from within, when he says from within, there are only two position options and one of them will not be here till at least the middle of the year, that leaves the other one Lambo. I would not doubt they will try to bring in at least one position player, one starting pitcher and one bullpen pitcher.

  • rburgh

    I think it’s obvious to start the season with a RF platoon of Lambo and Tabata and see if Andrew can hit. If he can, keep him there until Polanco is ready, then trade Lambo. If Lambo doesn’t hit, roll Snider into that platoon and see what he does, with the same game plan – trade him when Polanco is ready.

    Essentially, I am advocating trading whoever of Lambo and Snider hits better for what a controllable RF with a decent bat will bring (a fair return I would think) and keep the poorer hitter as a bench option along with Tabata when Polanco is ready.

    So I would focus on improving 1B in the FA market. I agree that Loney should be the first option. I see no reason to mess with Gaby since Matt Hague can play 1B and hit lefties a lot cheaper (albeit not as well). My plan B would be to pay up for Abreu and bring in a couple of LH hitting AAAA types to see what they can do and use the best of them and Alex Dickerson as a backup and LH bat off the bench. Plan C would be Morneau, with Dickerson and Lambo as bench options / shuttle to Indy 1B guys.

    • Kevin_Young

      The more I look, the more disturbing the idea of bringing in James Loney is to me. We’d be buying a guy off of a career year and it wasn’t even an impressive. His Steamer Projections for 2014 are extremely underwhelming. And I don’t understand the myth that he plays good defense because no system has ever graded him out as a good defender.

      Also…Matt Hague??

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

        Loney has been graded as a good fielder by a lot of advanced metrics.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=4556&position=1B#fieldingadvanced

        Also, I wouldn’t say it’s a career year. I think it’s an example of what he can do when half of his games aren’t at Dodger Stadium.

        As for his season, Loney had the 10th highest WAR out of 25 qualified 1B.

        • Kevin_Young

          Team philosophies play a large role in Zone ratings. I mean Garrett Jones led the NL in range factor/9 this year on baseball reference. Loney is certainly upper half, but that’s not much of a consolation prize for a guy with a career OPS+ of 106/ wRC+ of 105. And that was his first time anywhere near the top 10 in WAR among 1B.

          I’m not saying he’s bad, but he’s mediocre at best.

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

            I don’t look at RF as a good defensive metric. Also, you’re citing Loney’s career numbers, but his career is largely with the Dodgers, where he had horrible home splits and good road numbers.

            • Kevin_Young

              Yea I’m not a big fan of RF either. With his UZR, the last 2 years have easily been the best of his career and it’s difficult to tell if that’s more team related, or a true defensive improvement, but defense does not improve typically at his age.

              His home/road splits were the same last year in Tampa and the Trop has played far more generously to lefties than PNC has the last 2 years (contrary to what many would believe). His road splits were the highest of his career last year I believe, which makes sense playing in AL East parks I suppose.

      • Andrew

        I really do not understand either side of the home/away argument. His away number with the Dodgers are high because of playing at Coors and Chase. His away numbers are high with Tampa because of playing at New York and Baltimore. He has a career OPS of .715 at Dodger stadium and .707 at Tampa.

        On basic park factors PNC is a 97, ahead of both the LA and the Trop which come in at 95. HR ratings for left hander PNC is a 95 tied with the Trop and LA is rated higher at 102. (He could have good road numbers with the Bucs b/c of Great American Small Park and Miller Playground.)

        I have no problem saying Loney is coming off a career year, this might drive up the price (do front office really only look at one past year of performance.) However he is still the best free agent 1st base option.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

      rburgh, trying to understand your suggestion – since Snider is out of options, it looks like you’re advocating carrying 5 OF (Cutch, Marte, Tabata, Snider and Lambo) , which presumes you’re comfortable going to arbitration with Snider even tough your plan is to start him out as a 5th OF.

      Also, I’m curious as to why you would opt to carry a lesser hitter (Hague – by your own admission not as good as Gaby) rather than Gaby himself. The Pirates can easily absorb the extra $3 million, so the question is: is the Bucs’ objective to put the best team on the field or the most cost-efficient one?

  • piraddict

    Some statistics are in order:

    Player MLB Lifetime AB MLB 2013 OPS MLB Lifetime OPS MLB Lifetime AB/HR

    Cutch 2751 .911 .869 27
    Marte 677 .784 .773 40
    Tabata 1380 .771 .723 81
    Snyder 1224 .614 .701 33
    Lambo 30 .703 .703 30

    Lambo’s 2013 minor league OPS was .922 and his AB/HR was 14.4. By way of contrast:

    Player MLB Lifetime AB/HR

    Pedro Alvarez 19.4
    Paul Goldscmidt 19.9
    Albert Pujols 14.85

    Now some observations:

    1) Lambo was no worse than Snider last year in a small sample size, but should extraordinary promise for power at the minor league level. In a choice between the two of them, keep Lambo. Trade Snyder.

    2) Tabata shows no promise for power. He is not a good fit for the Pirates except as a back up. His upside is as another teams centerfielder (though he is possibly too slow now) and lead off man. He should be traded for an A/AA third baseman, the obvious hole in Pirate’s minor league system. In a choice between Tabata and Lambo keep Lambo.

    Is Lambo the next coming of Albert Pujols? Odds are, no! But could he provide as much power as Alvarez? Possibly, yes. The Pirates biggest need in 2014 is to increase their ability to produce runs. I agree with Tim, give Lambo every opportunity to prove that he can succeed, whether as an RF or as a 1B.

  • swampirate

    There is (for good reason) a lot of talk about getting a 1st baseman or RF this offseason. We had a hole there is no doubt… but thinking outside the box and looking at what is available on the FA market and in the Pirates system, Is it not an option to sign a SS or 2b (Stephen drew, peralta…) Then Move Walker to 3b and Pedro to 1b while using Mercer to fill the other Middle Infield position?

    • piraddict

      So is this akin to a philosophy often used in sports drafts where you pick the best player available, regardless of position? Applied to free agents it is an interesting idea! Free agents are usually targeted for need. But why not sign the best free agent or two (with regards to value = ability/cost) regardless of position and make your adjustments of team players to fit afterwards? If you have players with some positional flexibility it could work.

      • swampirate

        correct! I just don’t see the value in going the FA route to sign a 1b based on salary + what is available. Certainly, 3b is thin in the FA market. I think we may find that the Pirates strengthen their infield defense at 3b, 2b and ss this way. The best players/best value would be middle infielders this year in the FA market PLUS Hanson figures to be playing middleinfield with Mercer sooner rather than later. Lets move the pieces where they may likely end up or at least where they would help us most now.

  • blackmax

    Tim, you make sense when you say that the Pirates should keep to the plan. They still need to try out young, unproven players with potential. But it’s one thing to give Lambo a shot at a starting position and another to give him a starting position. It would help if they at least had a couple of other possibilities, maybe a couple of other, former high-tier prospects, to compete for the left handed hitting outfield slot. (I am assuming that the Pirates have lost interest in Snider).

  • Andrew

    Lambo needs to be given playing time. This notion that he is a risk is strange, all baseball roster moves have risk associated with them. Free agents are risks given that they are on the downward slope of aging curves. Trades are risky because you are most likely given up multiple cost controlled players.

    Whether it is in right or at first in a platoon with Sanchez he needs to play. Players are converted to first basemen frequently, the white whale of Brandon Moss plays first, albeit badly. Mike Napoli, a man who will need both of his hip replaced before 45 has been converted to 1B, and what about picking machine Scott Hatterberg of Moneyball fame.

    • emjayinTN

      Somebody will be in RF until June when Gregory Polanco is promoted and the Pirates establish themselves as having the best defensive OF in the majors. And, it will not be long before that becomes the best offensive OF in the Majors. Lambo can be a placeholder until June and then as a utility OF (usually you want a guy who can play all 3 OF positions) or as LH bench strength.

      Mike Napoli and Scott Hatteberg were both Catchers and anybody who knows the game knows that Catchers are the best athletes on the team and can play any position on the field – if you do not believe me ask Russell Martin, or Neil Walker, Craig Biggio, and a host of others. If you look at MLB pitchers, most of them were Shortstops growing up; middle infielders have great feet and hands and if you watch Catchers, it is the same movements – that is why Catchers can adjust to any other position, but anybody who has ever been a Catcher knows that it takes a special attitude to get hit with about 5 or 6 foul tips a game – playing 1B is a walk in the park compared to squatting about 120 times a game in full equipment.

      • Andrew

        Your are right about about catcher being the most difficult/demanding position; however first base is the easiest to play on the defensive spectrum. Pujlos, started at third and leftfield, Lance Berkman was converted from outfield, Teixeira, Youkilis, and Gaby Sanchez from third base. My point is Lambo needs to be given an opportunity, especially at the comparative cost, and position should not be a limiting factor.

        Not utilizing your internal options and paying high cost declining free agents is how to create a “window.”

  • jon6er

    There is a team playing for a spot in the World Series right now that has 17 out of 25 players on their roster who came up through their farm system. That would be the Cardinals who trust their farm system and when they bring guys up they play them instead of burying them on the bench like Hurdle. Lambo did what minor leaguers are supposed to do. Play well enough to earn a shot which I don’t think he got!

    • blackmax

      OK. Bring up an outfielder from Memphis. Their good ones have sustained success from level to level.