No, Brett Lawrie isn't broken. But he is a batter with significant potential and pedestrian numbers, and as the Eyeball Scout sees it, Lawrie's troubles are the result of fixable problems.
Let me begin by saying that I am about as close to a "swing mechanics guru" as Billy Butler is to being a "pinch running specialist". If you don't believe me, here is an excerpt from one of my very most astute scouting reports on a swing belonging to Brandon Moss:
Ooh, pretty!!!! Do it again! Do it again! Pretty swing!!!!!!!!
Lawrie's slash line for 2015 currently sits at .263/.299/.399. So we'll call it around .260/.300/.400 which, interestingly, is exactly what I predicted before the season. This is mostly interesting because I am usually dead wrong. However, I do not believe it needs to be Lawrie's "true talent level" -- even though it is remarkably close to his career line of .264/.317/.419.
Lawrie is physically gifted and also possesses the ability to hit the ball really hard. Combine those two qualities with his excellent speed from the batter's box to 1B, and you have the makings of a batter who could maintain a high batting average and more slugging.
So why isn't Lawrie hitting more like .285/.330/.450? The tools are there. Here's what I see...
Lawrie sets up as far from the plate as any hitter. He then leans out over the plate -- mostly by way of reaching with his arms -- in order to cover the outside corner. So while he is able to reach pitches away, he is doing so only by altering his entire approach so that he is essentially reaching for every pitch.
On pitches away, Lawrie can only drive the ball hard to the opposite field. In order to pull them he would have to use a "Joe Carter swing" in which you reach out and hook the ball. More commonly you are going to get your best contact with liners the other way and sharp ground balls up the middle, and indeed that's where Lawrie has had much of his success. What you will end up doing a lot of is contorting your body awkwardly trying to adjust for the adjustment -- you are too far from the plate and so to compensate you have a reaching, all arms swing in which your arms, body and feet are not really working together.
If you like spray charts, look at the one on the right and notice how few balls Lawrie hits to LF compared to CF and RF.
If you like visuals, here are some gifs that may or may not be helpful:
With Lawrie's arms, body, and feet contorting seemingly in three directions, I believe this also why he has a tendency to swing through, or foul back, breaking balls that look hittable but which Lawrie appears not to track well. (The first gif is kind of an example, but more to the point are hanging sliders that Lawrie often swings right through.)
On pitches in, in theory Lawrie won't get jammed as much thanks to being so far from the plate, but in fact he winds up jammed by his own swing as he reaches and lunges for pitches that are tailing in towards him.
What he needs to do, in my opinion, is to take a full step towards the plate and then focus on striding directly towards the pitcher and keeping his arms, body, and feet working together in a fluid alignment that is more "straight up and down" with the hands coming at the pitcher as they should. Less arm, more wrist. Less lateral focus, more "at the pitcher" focus. If someone can explain this better, either in their own words or with gifs that are instructive, please do!
I really think that with this adjustment, Lawrie could quickly become a hitter who drives the ball hard to LF, which is something he is not doing, as well as someone better equipped to track pitches and keep his body balanced throughout his swing.
It sounds simple, maybe too simple to be true, yet so often key adjustments are singular and sudden -- such as Brandon Moss opening up his stance or Josh Donaldson finding a timing mechanism that works well for him.
So basically SOMEBODY PLEASE SHOW THIS TO BRETT LAWRIE kthxbai.