Why Lowrie Needs To Play

by Marc on April 18, 2011

in Red Sox

Photo courtesy of SI.com

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.

 

 

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

BigNachos April 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Lowrie’s numbers are a bit skewed since he’s gotten to face lefties more often than a regular would, and of course he’s crushed them to the tune of .333/.407/.563 for his career. I seriously doubt he’d continue his post-mono pace if he were facing righties ~70% of the time.

Fortunately, the .250/.353/.470 he put up last year vs. righties is still well above average for a shortstop.

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Marc April 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Agreed. This is why I said “70 to 100 points” about the average shortstop’s TAv, rather than his ridiculous rate since July. I would expect some drop off here, though he would still rule.

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Matt Kory April 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Here here! I wonder how well Iglesias would have to play to deserve the spot over a healthy Lowrie?

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BigNachos April 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I don’t think it’s possible, unless Iglesias somehow takes a giant step forward with his bat. Defensively, Lowrie is average, or maybe a little below. Iglesias is above average, but it’s hard to say how much. Very best case for him, he’s worth 2 to 3 wins over Lowrie’s defense, but more likely it’s more like 1 to 1.5 wins.

Lowrie’s bat is probably worth 4-6 WAR and Iglesias’s bat would probably be pretty close to replacement level. His defense doesn’t have a chance of overcoming that advantage.

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doctorogres April 18, 2011 at 12:47 pm

That is indeed the question of the year, but Iglesias needs a lot more ABs before we can get a good idea of what we’re dealing with in the batter’s box.

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Marc April 18, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I went down to Pawtucket this weekend, almost specifically to see Iglesias field. He is unreal defensively–I hope his bat ends up being average for the position, because he will be worth plenty of wins.

You have to remember, he’s pretty young, is here recently from Cuba, and is, at best, a solid contributor at the plate. It might take some time for his bat to catch up with his glove.

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Matt Kory April 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I saw Iglesias down in Spring Training this year and was similarly impressed with his defensive acumen. Dude is a defensive stud, but there’s no way he’ll ever be the hitter Lowrie is which is OK, he won’t have to because his value will come from a different place.

It’s fortunate this doesn’t have to be settled now, or for that matter, even next season.

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doctorogres April 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm

@BigNachos

I don’t know about that. He’s only 21 and looks right now to at least be able to hit for average. Power comes later, and he’s playing above his age in AAA. It’s too early to say what his bat is going to be like.

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BigNachos April 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm

His strikeout rate is pretty high to maintain the batting averages he’s put up in the minors. Power does come later, but how much power can we ever expect from a player who still hasn’t hit a homerun as a professional?

At this point, all indications are that he’ll struggle to stay above replacement level with the bat in the majors. It’s possible he’ll take a big step forward, but it’ll need to be a Neil Armstrong-sized step to compete with a healthy Lowrie.

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mondogarage April 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I think hitting four home runs in four consecutive games at Citi Field should ameliorate the allegations that Tulo is a Coors Field creation, and he is still a career .813 OPS away from Coors. Lowrie’s career OPS away from the Fens is .758 (.802 at home).

I have no idea what each player’s TAv is away from their home parks, but it does seem to be that Lowrie’s 2011 is likely more made of unsustainable BABIP than it is of monster ability.

That said, he should be playing every day, yeah.

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Matt Kory April 18, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I don’t think Marc ever said Tulo was a Coors Field creation. He’s an amazing player regardless of the park he plays in, but you can’t ignore a given park’s effects on a any player.

I’m not sure how much stock you can put in Lowrie’s career OPS or any other stat due to his injuries and their affect on his play (Marc spoke to this above).

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Jim April 18, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Before we begin casting Jed’s HoF plaque, he’s only had 225 plate appearances, so any discussion of Jed’s hitting needs to acknowledge the small sample size. Who knows, but by the weekend the opposition could figure out how to pitch to him.

That said at the moment he has a hot bat and the Sox should ride that for a while.

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BigNachos April 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm

He has quite a few more than 225 plate appearances at the major league level (more than a full season’s worth), plus another 1600 in the minors, plus his play in a top program in college. For a guy who’s missed as much time as he has, it’s pretty well established what he’s capable of.

I think Marc’s point with the 225 PA’s he’s had since he’s finally been fully healthy, he’s played at an extremely high level, and has continued to do so despite the increasing sample size.

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