Fist pumps are a great way into fans’ hearts.
New White Sox second baseman Brett Lawrie is quite obviously a fan favorite. Why? Dude is always pumped up. As a fan, when your team is winning, you also get pumped up. And while there’s nothing wrong with a calmer, more laid back player – as many are (i.e. Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, etc.) – fans are always gonna love the scrappy guy that’s hootin’, hollerin’, and fist-pumpin’.
That’s the type of player that Lawrie is. He’s the Joakim Noah, the Andrew Shaw, the AJ Pierzynski of the 2016 White Sox.
Is he the team’s best player? No.
Is he the most valuable player? Nope.
But he does have plenty of importance to the south siders … at least in some way, he is one of the team’s leaders. And as much as I do value that on-the-field grittiness that seems to give the Sox life on more nights than not, he also carries plenty of importance to the baseball side of things … the X’s and O’s, if you will.
The last second base mainstay at The Cell was Gordon Beckham. And he was a mainstay because while the team constantly struggled to find an above average option, Beckham was, if nothing else, a great defender and not too far below average of an offensive option.
Lawrie isn’t the best defensive second baseman out there, but he won’t kill you in the field much, and does make impressive plays with some regularity. And I think that, paired with his ‘leadership’ qualities, gives him plenty of value.
But a total X-Factor for the team – undoubtedly a positive one thus far – has been Lawrie’s bat, which has helped pad the middle of the Sox’ order.
Nobody has ever denied Lawrie’s upside; the reason why the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in first round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Hype around him grew quickly as he tore up and flew through the minor leagues as a top-100 prospect from 2009-2011. And when called up to the big show as a 21-year-old, Brett torched major league pitching to a .953 OPS in 171 at-bats for the Blue Jays.
While things did slowdown for Lawrie over the next four years, his career didn’t completely fizzle into the abyss like Beckham’s did.
Even though pretty much everyone would describe Lawrie’s next 4 seasons as a disappointment, he proved, pretty firmly, that he was an above-average hitter, as he carried an OPS over .700 each year.
Now I know, reducing him to ‘above average’ may not be totally fair. He became a sure bet to strike out a lot without providing good on-base skills. Even though he always was a fairly productive bat, that’s not a combo that will work for every team.
But going into 2016, his age 26 season – seemingly the beginning of the prime of his career – it probably wasn’t fair to assume he couldn’t improve. And that’s exactly what he’s done.
Sure, we’re only one month into the season, but it’s not such a tiny sample size anymore with over 100 plate appearances. Lawrie has ridden a hot streak including long balls in three straight games to a .290/.377/.505 (.883 OPS) slash-line (worth noting that he has fanned 29 times in 106 PA’s thus far). While he has hit the ball pretty damn hard overall, his near-.400 BABIP suggest some obvious regression. And I think even super-optimistic Sox fans can accept and admit that.
Is he finally ‘breaking out’ and about to become a star? Probably not … but by tapping into his potential and becoming at least somewhat better than he had been previously – which again, was already an above-average hitter – he extends the ‘heart of the Sox’ order’ by another guy, which is huge.
Assuming the Sox stay afloat and look like contenders come June, they’ll have to look into adding another bat. In the meantime, they need guys to step up and fill a void over that 3-4 month stretch. And for the better part of one of those months, Lawrie has stepped up and settled into the 6 spot in the lineup – behind Eaton, our shitty no. 2 hitter, Abreu, Frazier, and Melky – and kept the production rollin’.
The “Lawrie Factor” pumps up the fans and the team on the field around him. At this point it’d be tough to deny that. But when he also produces at the plate, his value grows. It seems like as Brett goes, so do the Sox. So keep it rollin’, dude.
Photo Credit: Matt Hazlett, Getty Images