Jed Lowrie Rewards the Astros

Jed Lowrie has arrived. After four injury riddled seasons with the Boston Red Sox, the 28-year-old shortstop is experiencing a breakout year with the Houston Astros. Lowrie’s performance makes him one of the most exciting players on a Houston team devoid of talent. While health has always been an issue, Lowrie is proving that he’s a player the team may want to build around.

In his brief moments of health, Lowrie has shown some impressive skills. He has always shown patience at the plate, and he managed to cut his strikeout rate in his past two seasons with the Red Sox. Even though his .338 BABIP is due for some regression, there’s reason to believe Lowrie is still on his way to a career-best season.

So far, Lowrie is walking more (12.9% to 10.0%) and striking out less (15.8% to 18.5%) often. When he has made contact, Lowrie is spraying line drives all over the field. While his 22.4% line drive rate seems high, Lowrie’s career performance in the category is 19.4%. His ground ball and fly ball rates have also remained somewhat similar to his career rates.

Those small changes may not explain why Lowrie has experienced success this season, but a look at his PITCHf/x plate discipline numbers is encouraging. Lowrie has taken a much more patient approach at the plate this season, as all of his swing percentages are down this year. But Lowrie isn’t coming up to the plate looking for a walk, either. He seems to be waiting for a pitch he can hit — a strategy that seems to be working out well early on.

Because while Lowrie’s swing percentages may be down, all of his contact rates are up. So while he’s being pickier, he’s making solid contact with the pitches he swings at. And as his 6.1 SwStr% shows, he’s whiffing at fewer pitches this season. This strategy could be part of the reason for Lowrie’s strong line-drive rate.

There’s been a little bit of luck involved too, as Lowrie’s F-Strike% is down quite a bit this season. Since pitchers are throwing him fewer first-pitch strikes, there’s a good chance he’s getting in more hitters counts than usual and he’s taking advantage of them. Since there’s no reason for pitchers to avoid throwing Lowrie strikes, it might be something he’ll have to adjust to as the season goes on.

The problem is, we can’t be sure how long this will last. Lowrie has never received more than 341 plate appearances in the majors, due to injuries. Between a broken wrist, mononucleosis and a separated shoulder, Lowrie can’t seem to shake the injury bug.

Injuries have also made it difficult to judge Lowrie as a defensive player. Lowrie has received mixed results, according to UZR over his career. While he rated well in his first two seasons at the position — compiling a 10.0 UZR — he dropped to below-average during his past two. Lowrie’s gotten off to a great start defensively, compiling a 3.4 UZR already, but he cannot depend on that as an accurate reading right now.

ZiPS is well aware of Lowrie’s injury issues, forecasting only 282 more plate appearances for him for the rest of the year. But even if he plays average defense going forward, ZiPS projects that he’ll finish the season with 3.3 WAR — a figure that would have made him the Astros’ best hitter last season.

While trading for a player with such an extensive injury history is a risk, the Astros saw Lowrie’s true talent. For a team desperate for impact players, taking a shot on a low-risk, high-reward player like Lowrie was a smart decision.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


26 Responses to “Jed Lowrie Rewards the Astros”

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  1. Ben Cherrington says:

    Meh…I’d rather have Mark Melancon.

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    • Pete says:

      Melancon’s ERA is more than 12 pts higher than his FIP and 39 pts over his xFIP. Due for some regression!

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  2. Andrew says:

    Dear God Fangraphs, 3 Lowrie articles this week? I think I got it…

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    • mikesavino85 says:

      You do realize that: a) you don’t have to read the articles if they’re not interesting to you. b) if fangraph’s content isn’t up to snuff, you don’t have to visit the site.

      I’m not telling you to get lost and get off my lawn or whatever. I just don’t understand the reasoning behind these comments which appear far more often than I’d expect. Look, Rick Reilly really really annoys me. I hate his writing style. I used to read his columns on ESPN.com and rage about how cloyingly obnoxious he is.

      And then I realized, why the hell am I sending traffic to someone who’s style I hate? So I stopped reading him. Sometimes the title of one of his articles sounds really interesting but then I have to stop myself. I just know there’s going to be like 5 strained pop culture references and a tortured simile comparing something weird to whatever is happening in the news today and sports. So…why read the article if it looks like it will annoy you? And why read fangraphs if you think the content is lacking? And then, to top it all off, why take the time to comment on it?

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      • Andrew says:

        Because I love Fangraphs, read it all the time happily, but realize that its writers have limited time so that time would be better off spent discussing new topics. I’m sorry if the sarcastic nature of the comment was annoying, but it is possible to make suggestions/complaints to a service you admire and respect, unlike Rick Reilly.

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      • jskelly4 says:

        Have to agree with Andrew here, I love FanGraphs but 3 Lowrie articles is a bit much.

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      • Dexter Bobo says:

        You do realize that: a) you don’t have to read the article comments if they’re not interesting to you. b) if fangraph’s comments aren’t up to snuff, you don’t have to scroll down to the comments section.

        So…why read the comments if they look like they will annoy you? And why read comments section if you think the comments are lacking? And then, to top it all off, why take the time to comment on other people’s comments?

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    • brandon says:

      Those other two articles talked about jed from a fantasy baseball perspective. This one is mentioning him from an organizational point of view.

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  3. Evan says:

    How much is this a result of moving to an easier league, and a much easier division? May be too early to speculate on that being a significant reason for his success.

    Good for Lowrie at any rate.

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  4. Alex says:

    I’ve always hoped he would do well in Boston, but he’s one of the streakiest players I’ve ever seen. This is the same guy who spent 3+ weeks of early 2011 as one of the hottest hitters in the league but ended the season at 79 wRC+ and basically replacement-level WAR, even if you double it to account for the fact that he only played 88 games, which is his career high in the majors, despite having a reasonably productive rookie year in 2008. If this is the same Jed Lowrie that played here, he’ll regress hard or get hurt over the next couple months. It’s not uncommon for him to have a great month then disappear, so I’m leery of small sample size here, moreso than I am of many players.

    Hopefully the Astros have figured out a way to unlock whatever it is that makes him exceptional for brief periods of time, though. It really is magical when it happens.

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    • wily mo says:

      i think it’s all health. i think he’s a terrific hitter when he’s fully healthy but needs to be fully healthy to keep it up and tends to get hurt, which makes him seem streaky. last year he bummed out his shoulder and missed some time but also played through it for most of the rest of the year and was never the same hitter from the left side afterwards.

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  5. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    If he keeps this up, he won’t be an unpaid intern for long.

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  6. Preston says:

    He’s no Mike Aviles that’s for sure.

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  7. pudieron89 says:

    WAR doesn’t make him the Astro’s best hitter, but perhaps wRC would.

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  8. Christian says:

    So we’ve had the Altuve article and now the Lowrie article, and the Astros are still “devoid of talent”. When do we get the “Schafer is better than we thought” article and “by the way, Wandy is actually a pretty good pitcher” one?

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    • Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

      4 players an organization does not make.

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      • cable fixer says:

        True, but they’ve had a very good or great 12-16 months.

        Ed Wade–who (not to rant) was in a terrible situation being asked to field a competitive team, rebuild a depleted minor league system (easily one of the most bare systems of the past 5-10 years?), all while reducing salaries and operating staffs–pulled in some terrific talent in trades and draft over the last 2 seasons.

        While it’s too early to declare the new GM a success, he seems to have a clue. Given the financial resources available to the Houston market, I think it’s completely proper to note that we’ve probably passed an inflection point in Houston and FG has noted that in the past week, highlighting some of the young talent in Houston. Mind you, it’s not going to be a linear thing to the 2015 AL West crown…but that seems within the realm of possibility at last.

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      • Preston says:

        The Astros definitely have better decision makers in place now than they did. But their minor league system isn’t very promising and they are moving to the AL West next year. It seems like it’s going to take a while for this team to rebuild. Although if they can trade a couple more relievers for above average position players that would help speed up the rebuilding process.

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    • chuckb says:

      Re: Shafer — when he brings his K rate down to a reasonable level for a guy with no power and has success for more than a month.

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  9. Brandon T says:

    The problem with Lowrie has never been his performance — he’s put up numbers like this in small samples before. The problem with Lowrie has always been injuries. And while right now he’s playing great (read: healthy) and the Melancon is in the minors, you can still see why the Sox traded him. They needed someone dependable at SS and Lowrie had been anything but that for them. So they pass that risk onto someone else to fill a position of need. The season is still young: both players may yet regress to their means: injured for Lowrie (although I really hope not) and effective for Melancon.

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    • NBarnes says:

      Inuries can be a pain for an organization to deal with. But I always felt that Lowrie’s abilities when healthy made it worthwhile to try to have backup plans in place for his injuries so that the team can get by with vaguely above-replacement stopgaps. For a team trying to maximize WAR, such as the Red Sox, a guy like Lowrie, who can contribute WAR at a talent-shallow position, is valuable even in 80 or 100 games. Boston is in a position to spend money to put itself in a position to pick up a win, if that money buys good-but-injury prone players along with not-terrible backups and bench players. At least, one would think that they’d prefer to spend that money rather than cough up a win in the standings because Lowrie+Scutaro was just too expensive vs Aviles and soup de jour.

      It’s similar to how the Yankees have been a lot wiser the last few years about how they fill out their bench. They have the money to pay someone to be decent on the bench as a hedge against the inevitability of injuries. And until then, well, you have a bench bat and day-off player, which are very handy things. It’s a big improvement in approach over the days when they’d pay Miguel Cairo to be terrible.

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  10. AlecTrevelyan006 says:

    One thing to note is that people seem to equate “disabled list” with “injured”. In 2010, Lowrie missed most of the season with mono, not due to injury.

    That said, what have Lowrie’s past DL stints been from? I know last year he was out after a collision with Carl Crawford, how about 2010-and-earlier?

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  11. supershredder says:

    Devoid of talent my ass.

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  12. CarlosLee4MVP says:

    I really wish that the Red Sox would try to stretch Melancon out into a starter. I think he could be a solid #3.

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  13. Peter says:

    Meh, I think it’s a bit early to be declaring this some sort of breakout year for him considering the peripherals (walk rate, strikeout rate, line drive%) are only modest improvements over a small sample. I think he’ll be a useful player for the Astro’s sure but labeling him a player to build around at this juncture is pushing it in my opinion.

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