Jed Lowrie went 4-for-5 today, hitting sixth in the Red Sox lineup in between lefties David Ortiz and Carl Crawford. He hit a home run and drove in four runs on the day in Boston’s 9-1 victory over the Jays (their third straight win). That alone is not why he should be the team’s primary shortstop, though. His play since returning from mono takes those honors.
Since July 21, when Lowrie was activated off of the DL, and through yesterday’s contest, he has hit .310/.396/.543 over 225 plate appearances. That is excellent production from anywhere on the diamond, but at shortstop, where the offensive thresholds for adequacy are far below sea level, Lowrie is considered a minor deity.
Lowrie has hit .263/.344/.436 in his career, but, prior to 2010, there were some extenuating circumstances that kept him from performing at an elite level. For one, he just wasn’t ready to crush major league quality pitching yet–he struck out far too often, and oftentimes looked lost at the plate. Second, he was recovering from a broken wrist that sapped his power and lingered for far too long.
Both of those problems vanished in 2010, though, as Lowrie whiffed in just 12.6 percent of his plate appearances, and hit a homer every 22 plate appearances (or, if you prefer, every 19 at-bats). That production has continued in 2011, where, in his limited playing time, he has put together an OPS so lofty it requires a telescope to see.
To give you a real sense of just how good Jed Lowrie has been since returning from mono, I had Baseball Prospectus colleague Dan Turkenkopf bring up a list of all shortstop eligible players and their production since July 21, 2010. Using True Average, a rate stat that encompasses offensive production in to one, neat, tidy number, we can see who has been the best.
In a result so stunning that even Lowrie fanboys will be taken aback, Lowrie is the leading shortstop, via TAv, since his return. Lowrie has a .354 True Average over that stretch, while Tulowitzki–who has hit .331/.407/.672 in the same span of time–ranks second at .349.
Now, this isn’t to say that Lowrie is greater than Tulo, or anything like that. Tulowitzki, between his defense, his position, and his production, has an argument to be made that he is the best player in baseball. And, if you’re wondering why Tulowitzki’s line looks so much better than Lowrie’s, but Lowrie is considered slightly more productive, it is due to park effects–Tulowitzki is a fantastic hitter in his own right, but playing in Colorado can make even awful hitters look like solid ones. Tulowitzki is what happens when a great hitter is allowed to play there in half of his games. Fenway, while hitter-friendly, has more in common with pitcher parks than it does Coors Field.
The point is that Lowrie is one hell of a hitter, and his bat needs to be in the lineup every day. He isn’t a defensive whiz, by any means, but if his TAv is 70-100 points above the league average shortstop’s, then the word defense never even needs to be uttered. It appears as if Terry Francona is starting to get this point, but we have to hope that the idea of Jed Lowrie: Every Day Player sticks with him.