Junior Lake's Exploding Walk Rate and Other Bullets

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Junior Lake’s Exploding Walk Rate and Other Bullets

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

junior lake featureWhile it seems like the other three of us are recovering well, The Little Girl is still fairly sick, which means she’ll undoubtedly be staying home with me tomorrow. That could be a little tricky, what with it being the first day of the Winter Meetings, but at least I can try and find her an ugly sweater to join me for the Ugly Sweater Winter Meetings.

  • I’m not going to argue that a single offseason league should change your perspective on a player who may have otherwise looked lost in the big leagues, so don’t take this as that. But the caliber of competition in the Dominican Winter League ranges from upper minors to legit big league talent, so, if the sample size is large enough, you can take a little something away from it. That’s my preamble to noting just how good Junior Lake has been in the DR this year. He’s hitting .276/.421/.410, which gives him the 6th best OPS in the league. That .421 OBP is third best. (He’s a perfect 16 for 16 in stolen base attempts, for good measure.) To be sure, the guys around in in the stats tend to be fringe big leaguers, not unlike Lake, himself, and Lake put up an .843 OPS in the league last year. We saw how much that helped him in the bigs in 2014. But, the thing is, his performance is fundamentally different this year. In 2013, Lake’s OPS was built primarily on a huge BABIP and decent slugging – he took just 7 walks the entire DWL year. That was quintessential Lake, and was a summation of his raw talent … and questionable sustainability. This year? Lake’s hitting only .276 and he’s slugging only .410. But he’s walked 21(!) times for a walk rate higher than 16%(!). In the big leagues last year, Lake walked just 4.3% of the time. Walks are not uncommon in the DWL, but they have been for Lake until this year. (In case you’re wondering, Lake did walk a fair bit more in 2012 in the DWL, but the rate was still solidly under 10%.)
  • And then there’s this part, which is probably meaningless because of the sample size, but, following a demotion in August, Lake returned in September and had a walk rate near 20% to round out the year. Did he start working on some adjustments during the demotion, and he’s carrying them forward into the DWL? Is he trying to change his game from that of a slugger to a patient, walk-oriented hitter who takes advantage of his speed more than his power? We won’t know for sure for a while, and Lake’s strikeout rate remains enormous. But I’m suddenly far more intrigued to see what his approach looks like in Spring Training than I was a few months ago, when, I’ll be completely honest, I’d started to think he was done with the Cubs. The extreme change in his walk rate, over nearly 150 plate appearances between the DWL and September in the big leagues, is so profound that it’s hard not to take notice. You just don’t see guys go from 4/5% to 16/17% in a single year like that.
  • Can Lake win a job on the Cubs to open the season? Well, the answer to “can” is “of course.” But whether it actually happens will depend on a variety of factors, not all of which is within Lake’s control. Do the Cubs add a clear starter in the outfield? Are there injuries? Is there space to carry a project on the bench? Lake has an option left, so the Cubs may elect simply to send him to Iowa to start the year to see how his adjustments are playing there. It seems a lot less likely at this point that he’ll be dumped off of the 40-man roster for nothing.
  • David Laurila’s Sunday Notes are always interesting at FanGraphs, and today’s set includes anecdotes from Chili Davis on Josh Donaldson when the two were working together on Donaldson’s plate approach in Oakland. It really underscores how complicated it is to actually implement swing and approach changes even after issues have been identified. There’s clearly an art to being a hitting coach that has nothing at all to do with baseball and everything to do with communication.
  • Tony Andracki talks to Baseball America’s minor league manager of the year, Mark Johnson, who managed the dominant Kane County Cougars last year.


Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.