Maybe the A's have found something in Jake Lamb?
We're talking about Lamb as a member of the Athletics only because franchise third baseman Matt Chapman recently underwent season-ending hip surgery. To be sure, you don't merely replace a guy like Chapman -- he's perhaps the AL's best defensive third basemen, and for his career he's averaged 32 home runs and 42 doubles per 162 games played -- especially post-trade deadline. However, the recent addition of Lamb, who not long ago was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks, is looking like a timely and canny one as Oakland closes in on the AL West title.
By the way, that's Lamb's first homer off a lefty since August of last year. Since being picked up by the A's, he's batting .368/.400/.789, and he's struck out in just 15.8 percent of his plate appearances. With Arizona this season, Lamb had a slash line of .116/.240/.140 in 18 games and struck out in 34.5 percent of his plate appearances.
Obviously, the sample size is minuscule, and Lamb is plainly not going to continue running an OPS of almost 1.200. There are, however, some reasons to be encouraged. First, Lamb, who's still on the right side of age 30, has proved before he can produce at a high level. From 2016 through 2017, Lamb played in 300 games for the D-Backs, tallied 59 home runs, put up an OPS+ of 113, and made an All-Star appearance. A shoulder injury undermined pretty much his entire 2018 season, and a quad injury and roster bottleneck cost him big in 2019. Lamb, though, has sustained success in his semi-recent past.
As well, Lamb probably deserved a better fate across his 50 plate appearances with Arizona this season. The statistic weighted on-base average (wOBA) assigns proper value to every possible outcome at the plate and spits out a number that's scaled to look like OBP (i.e., .400 is elite, and .290 is really bad). Coming into Saturday's slate, Lamb this season had a wOBA of just .261, which is frankly terrible. However, there's also a stat called expected wOBA, or xwOBA, which measures what a hitter's wOBA should be based on his quality of contact at the plate. Typically, xwOBA better predicts future wOBA than wOBA itself does. Anyhow, Lamb coming into Saturday had an xWOBA of .340, which means he's hit the ball like a substantially above average batter, but bad luck and perhaps good defense have dragged his conventional numbers down. Stated another way, Lamb's deserved a much better fate this season, and since joining the A's he's indeed enjoyed a better fate. In related matters, Lamb coming into Saturday boasted an average exit velocity of 91.1 mph. That's better than the league mean (88.3 mph), and it's Lamb's highest such figure since 2016. His four batted balls on Saturday averaged close to 93 mph, so that overall 2020 average has been nudged up further.
On top of all that, Lamb recently indicated that the Oakland coaching staff noticed a few adjustments he needed to make at the plate, and he's since implemented their suggestions. When improved production coincides with mechanical changes, it raises the possibility that said improved production is at least somewhat sustainable. Again, Lamb isn't going to keep hitting like this, but thanks to his strong underlying batted ball metrics and tweaks at the plate, it's quite reasonable to think he's going to continue being a useful player for the A's as they look to make a deep playoff run.