Enigma: a person, thing, or situation that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous
Every so often in Major League Baseball, a homegrown player emerges that causes fans, analysts, and experts to shower them with superlatives such as “once in a generation talent”, “perennial All-Star”, or “superstar”. Such names include Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout. The Toronto Blue Jays have been lucky enough to produce two of those players: Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay.
More common is the scenario where a player is prematurely labelled as a future superstar while still in the minor leagues, and they promptly fizzle upon reaching the majors. Toronto’s history is littered with players of this mould, players such as Josh Phelps, Kevin Cash, and Kyle Drabek.
But once in a while, a player comes along that may possibly meet both categories above. This player is a top prospect who arrives in the big leagues and plays well enough to avoid the “bust” label, but not well enough to truly deserve the “superstar” label. These players are truly the definition of an enigma: mysterious and puzzling, contradictory in nature and character. Quite often baseball fans and analysts don’t know exactly what to make of these players, whether to celebrate their muted accomplishments or be disappointed in their untapped potential.
The Blue Jays have one of these players starting for them everyday – Brett Lawrie.
The former first round draft pick was acquired by the Jays in 2010 in the Shaun Marcum trade, and made his major league debut in August 2011. His 43 game cameo at the end of that season was a great success and only served to inflate the ever-growing hype machine more and more. Lawrie was young, good-looking, energetic, and – best of all – Canadian. For Canada’s only MLB team, he was a marketing dream.
But since his debut he has been a player surrounded by more questions than answers.
A walking contradiction.
Consider the following:
Example: A natural second baseman, Lawrie transitioned to third base for the first time in his career and was expected to have a below-average glove in the majors. However, he has developed into one of baseball’s elite defensive 3B, with a 4.7 career dWAR and +38 defensive runs saved.
Example: He is a power hitting corner infielder who can’t hit home runs. Every year baseball experts speak of Lawrie’s power and his potential to hit 30+ HR, yet his career high remains 11.
Example: He has blazing speed yet can’t steal bases. His career totals speak for themselves: 29 steals, 14 times caught.
Example: He is in incredible physical shape yet he can’t stay physically healthy. Due to a variety of injuries, Lawrie missed 92 games in 2012 and 2013.
Example: He has a fiery personality and plays with a lot of emotion, which is seen as a good thing because it keeps his teammates motivated, but also a bad thing as it can lead to frustrations boiling over (AKA the Helmet Throwing Incident).
Even his 2014 season thus far has been a massive contradiction. Of the 102 players in the American League to qualify for the batting title, Lawrie ranks dead last with a .135 average, second last with a .198 OBP, and second last with a .495 OPS. Yet there he is tied for 9th with 4 HR, and T-7th with a team leading 15 RBI, leading to the question: How can a player be so bad yet so good?
There is, of course, one major caveat when analyzing Brett Lawrie – his age. At just 24 years of age, Brett is still maturing both mentally and physically, so there is room for him to grow into a better player.
But therein also lies one final question:
Is Lawrie still young enough to become a superstar? Or does the fact that he already has nearly 300 games of experience over four separate seasons tell us all we need to know: mainly that he is who he is, an average major league hitter with limited power and an above average glove?
That’s the thing with an enigma – we may never know the answer.