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.