It was unsustainable.
- Rating: 1.80
- Age: 30 (as per October 9)
- 2020 stats: 50 PA, .116/.240/.140 = .380 OPS, -0.8 bWAR
- 2020 salary: $5,515,000
- 2021 status: unrestricted free agent
It must have been a tough decision for Mike Hazen when the Arizona Diamondbacks announced on September 10 that Jake Lamb would be designated for assignment in order to make room for Pavin Smith. Mike Hazen was one of the strongest believers in Lamb and his front office decided to pay a hefty, although forecasted, 2020 salary to avoid arbitration. The SnakePit did not approve the decision in December to not non-tender Jake Lamb and Captain Hindsight surely was on our side. “I think he probably fell victim to the 60-game season more than anyone else,” was Hazen’s take, defending Jake Lamb until the very last moment.
That does not seem correct, because what James wrote in his 2019 review of Jake Lamb applied to the 2020 Jake Lamb as well, albeit now that he just could not hit a ball at all. True, his at bats were limited, but he struck out way more often than he got on base. Jim wrote about where it all went wrong for Jake Lamb. The final years in Sedona red he will be remembered as a platoon bat that cannot hit lefties, a below-average defender and out of position player. In 2020 he gave us little to no reason to cheer at all and thus has become SnakePit’s worst rated Diamondbacks professional baseball player of 2020.
At the beginning of the season the D-Backs clearly banked on a good 2020 from Jake Lamb, his final year as a contract player before reaching free agency. “if he gets back to his form, we’re a totally different team”, said Lovullo in February. “I am one of the best players in this room”, made Lamb believe himself. Jake Lamb did well in Spring Training, batting a .300/.417/.600 slash line. What is Spring Training worth, I hear you say? True, but it was still an improvement over his Spring Training stats of the previous two seasons. In a Q&A with Steve Gilbert in July 2020 Lamb told about his positive vibes and our reasons to hope: “This is the best I’ve ever felt in my career. With that comes a lot of confidence, and it’s good to have my confidence all the way back.”
Apparently, Jake Lamb made a few successful adjustments during Spring Training regarding his timing: “I feel like I’ve made it that much easier to time up the pitcher by simplifying my moves. That’s where I feel like I’m at right now. I feel like I’m on time, not early, which ultimately allows me to make a good decision on whether it’s a strike or ball and whether I want to swing or not.” Unfortunately, his 34% K-rate for the Diamondbacks clearly disagreed with that statement, although a player who is not in his groove does not get any help from the umpires either, as witnessed by this horrible strikeout call in a match with the San Francisco Giants. If you have never seen the face of a player who is clearly battling against more than just the hitting aspect of the game, here is a great example.
It all started so well though. On July 24 Jake Lamb batted 8th in the first game of this shortened season at Petco Park and had a hit and drew a walk. He was one of few positive notes in what was otherwise a game to forget. But it proved to be a spasm. The Washington native gradually lost playing time and in his final game for the Arizona Diamondbacks Lamb entered the game with a batting average of 0.100. He was able to improve it to 0.116 with a hit, but two additional strike outs were enough for the D-Backs front office and the decision was made to let him go. As such, the 2020 highlights of Jake Lamb in a Diamondbacks shirt can be easily summarized in the following video of 5 hits, 1 RBI and 1 extra base hit. Even Jake Lamb unworthy.
One of the common jokes on the SnakePit is that once a heavily criticized player is let loose he probably tears up the whole division and league for his next team. While that did not happen with Jake Lamb, truth is he was a welcome addition for the Oakland Athletics who picked him up right after he cleared waivers, as a replacement for the injured Matt Chapman. Small sample size again, but although he continued to hit bad against left handed pitchers (0.188 BA), the numbers were much more sustainable and in general he did very well (.267/.327/.556), although the A’s did not place that much confidence in Lamb in their postseason run where he appeared in only two games.
As an unrestricted free agent he will quite likely have to battle for a spot as a platoon player and as such his options will be much more limited, especially in a COVID-affected free agent market. Spotrac lists him as a 1B, but it could very well be that a team will sign him as a 3B platoon bat, like the A’s did. He seems like an interesting fit for the Blue Jays, Royals, Orioles, Tigers or Rangers where he could occasionally be used as a DH or at 1B when needed. As one of the friendliest faces of the franchise, we can only wish him well in his quest for renewed success at major league level.