With all the injuries and disappointments in the 2010 season, perhaps one of the more pleasant surprises has been the superb play of infielder Jed Lowrie.
For a player who missed the season’s first 94 games — not to mention missing most of ’09 with a left wrist injury — reminding the organization that he was still alive was quite the powerful message.
After debuting with the big club back in 2008, Lowrie figured to play a big role in the club’s future. Unfortunately, 2009 was a lost season — putting him on the organizational backburner. Beginning the 2010 season on the 60-day DL didn’t help matters either, as it seemed he might have more of a career in Pawtucket than Boston.
But Lowrie has done quite the job reestablishing himself in the BoSox’ future.
Despite being sidelined by mono into mid-July, the infielder has managed to put together quite an impressive audition with his last 110 at-bats – registering a .255/.359/.445 line with four home runs.
At the root of Lowrie’s resurgent 2010 are two major factors: an increase in power and improved plate discipline. His .191 isolated slugging and 1.06 BB:K ratio represent stark improvements over his lost 2009 campain, which included a disappointing .118 ISO and 0.30 BB:K — numbers not indicative of future success.
While at face value, the improvements are cause for celebration, Lowrie’s skill set is quite unusual for his kind of success. While not possessing particularly good power, he has managed to carve out a 20-HR pace. This, in turn, has caused pitchers to be somewhat cautious with him, upping his walk rate to, what may become, unsustainable levels.
The first question, when it comes to Lowrie’s abilities, is the true ceiling of his power. Seen for much of his career as a 10-15 home run guy, the question isn’t so much, “will he get there?” as “how does he get there?”
Let’s get one thing straight, Jed Lowrie is not a power guy. Though he does have a little bit of pop, his 7.7 HR/FB rate in 2010 (and 4.7 HR/FB career mark) suggests that home runs tend to be few and far between — and that most of his fly balls fall far short of the wall. Therefore, to reach home run totals of even the mid-teens, he needs to hit a large number of fly balls — which is what is happening this year.
With a 55.9 percent fly ball rate on the season, he’s approaching the limit of percentage of fly balls hit — meaning that, without an uptick in raw power (which probably isn’t coming, according to his track record) he’s also at the peak of any such home run output.
While this is not necessarily a problem on it’s own, it’s important to realize that this power output significantly effects his plate discipline profile.
And, for Lowrie, the primary mover in the rest of the sequence seems to be his power numbers.
It’s no secret that pitchers treat power hitters with more respect. Power hitters, by and large, see fewer pitches in the zone as hurlers “nibble” at the edges of the strike zone in an attempt to cut down on the home runs.
These additional balls leads to far more walks, which is the primary reason that today’s premier power hitters walk so much. These batters don’t necessarily have better batting eyes, pitchers just fall behind more.
Which brings us back to Lowrie.
While we and much of the baseball world know that Jed Lowrie does not have a whole lot of power, pitchers are actually approaching him as if he does. Now, whether that is in respect of his power or because of small sample size, we do not know. Still, the fact is, a major reason why Lowrie has walked so much this year is because pitchers aren’t throwing as many strikes to him as they used to.
Compared to 2009, where Lowrie’s walk rate was 7.9 percent (compared to 14.1 percent in 2010), the infielder has seen 2.8 percent fewer pitches inside the zone (52.9 percent Zone rate in ’09, versus 50.1 percent in ’10) and a whopping 7.7 percent fewer first-pitch strikes (63.2 F-Strike rate in ’09 versus 55.5 in ’10).
Together, these factors have been a major contributor in Lowrie’s improved walk rate — accounting for approximately half of his walk rate increase.
Unfortunately, this walk rate improvement is frighteningly tentative — as a change in approach by the league’s pitchers could increase Lowrie’s F-Strike or Zone rate, leading to a drop in his walk rate.
However, Lowrie’s walk rates can still be counted on to be quite good, as his selective approach and favorable O-Swing rate suggest that he can sustain a walk rate of about 10 percent even if pitchers decide to ignore his burgeoning “power.”
As for his overall production, the funny thing is after the myriad of projected changes, he ends up being a very similar player to the one he has been this season. He should find himself batting in the mid .250s to .260s again, with an OBP in the .340s to .350s. His slugging percentage may take a hit, dropping down to the low .400s.
In the end, he should find himself with a mid-to-high .700s OPS, which is quite good for a middle infielder — especially one who can play the field and who’s role has been reprised as a utility player for the next couple years.
Look forward to a great 2011 with Lowrie as he develops into one of the more underrated assets in the AL East.
Categories: Jed Lowrie