Jake Lamb on Being a Gap-to-Gap Diamondback

Jake Lamb is off to a solid start in the production department. The left-handed-hitting third baseman homered in Arizona’s opener, and he doubled in game two. There’s more where that came from. Lamb slugged just .386 in 109 games with the Diamondbacks last year, but he did so as a young player with a foot injury. In three-plus seasons on the farm, he slashed .321/.408/.552.

Lamb isn’t without his supporters as he heads into his age-25 season. Eno Sarris has predicted he’ll hit 20 home runs, and just last week August Fagerstrom called him one of the Real Winners of Spring Training.

Lamb discussed his hitting approach, which includes a healthy dose of line drives to the left-center-field gap, prior to the D-Backs breaking camp to begin the 2016 campaign.

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Lamb on his up-the-middle approach: “For the most part, my stock approach is to hit the ball hard to center field. I’m trying to line out to the center fielder. In saying that, what I really want is to hit a low line drive. If I’m a little late on a heater, hopefully I’ll hit it over the shortstop. If I’m a little early, it will be the right-center gap.

“If you’re looking away, away, away, and the pitch is middle in, you’re leaning and have no chance to hit the ball well. You’re probably going to roll it over. Looking center field gives me the reaction time to hit a ball that’s in, and I’ve always been a good left-center guy. I naturally go that way. What I don’t want is to get too right side of the field, or too left side of the field.”

On being “a good left-center guy”: “I was taught to go the other way. In college [at the University of Washington], I was kind of forced into it. They wanted me to go to left-center. At first I didn’t like it, but it turned me into the hitter I am today. It turned me into more of a pure hitter, a guy who can go to both gaps.

“Coming up through the minor leagues, you’re taught fastballs low and away, fastballs low and away. That just went right into my strength. Of course, scouting reports get out and guys started seeing if I can hit the pitch in. I’ve showed that I can, although when I’m feeling good, I’m probably not even swinging at that pitch.”

On hitting against the shift: I’ve been shifted, and when that happens I still stick with my approach. That said, I am trying to get better at the bunting game. I want to even up that shift — keep the third baseman in and bring that shortstop over to worry about the bunt. But again, I try to keep the same approach. I know guys are trying to throw me in, and stuff like that, but I don’t necessarily have to swing at everything they throw me.

“If you’re up there trying to control where you hit the ball, then you’re taking about manipulating the barrel. You’re changing your bat path, and I don’t want to do that. I want the barrel to enter the zone early, and stay in the zone for as long as possible, with my natural swing.”

On adjusting and hunting mistakes: “As hitters, we hit the mistakes. If a pitcher is making his pitches, he’s not easy to hit. That’s especially true when he’s got good velo. If he’s consistently living at the bottom of the zone, and the umpire is giving him that, and maybe even expanding a little bit, that’s when you want to possibly scoot up in the box.

“You usually want to wait a time through the order to see if he’s really consistently hitting that spot. If he is, that’s when you start to make adjustments. If he isn’t, then you stay patient and hit those mistakes.”

On pitch recognition: “I’m looking at his release point and his arm speed. Some guys you’ll see a lot, and you’ll start to recognize things. Maybe it’s, ‘OK, he’s getting around his fastball a little bit.’ There are little things you pick up. You also learn how they want to pitch you. It can be, ‘OK, he likes to come with a changeup here.’ But I’m not doing all the calculations in my head as he’s releasing the ball. I’m going on reaction and instincts.

“You do need to know what a guy’s ball does. I remember facing Shelby Miller last year. He releases his fastball at a weird slot and it kind of picks up. We always said that, with him, that ball at the belt is a pitch we have to take, because it plays higher than the belt. You’re not going to square it up. You’re either going to be under it and pop it up, or you’re going to miss it completely. He’s an example of a guy you really have to see down.”

On hitting the changeup: “With guys who don’t have as much movement on their changeup, but a big differential in speed, you have a chance to keep your barrel in the zone. Maybe your lower body is out front, but if you keep your hands back and through the zone, you’ve got a chance to hit that pitch.

“With other guys, the break is so late that the only chance you have of hitting it is if you see it up around your belt. A Zack Greinke or a Felix Hernandez has that hard, speed-change split — whatever you want to call it — that comes out of the hand with so much velocity that it looks like a fastball. Your eyes tell you fastball, but it breaks like a changeup. If it starts at the knees, it’s going to end up in the dirt. You don’t have a chance.

“You need a strict approach with those guys. You also have to realize they’re elite pitchers — I’m referring to the guys I just named — and you can’t try to hit everything. That’s one thing I learned last year. Coming up through the minor leagues, it was like, ‘I want to hit everything.’ Up here, there are a lot of guys you can’t do that against. You need to have an approach, stick to it, and when you get that one pitch you’re looking for, you have to hit it.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Watching the games sometimes I forget just how much thought these guys put into their craft. It’s pretty impressive to hear a younger player like that with such a strong grasp on how he approaches hitting. Hoping Lamb has a great season this year.