New Kid on the (Trade) Block: Jed Lowrie

With Marco Scutaro keeping shortstop warm for Jose Iglesias — and Dustin Pedroia firmly entrenched at the keystone — new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has an ace up his sleeve with Jed Lowrie. Keith Law noted this week that the Sox are in an enviable position, “with a slight surplus in the middle infield that could be amplified in a market where there’s more demand for shortstops than there is supply.”

Per usual, Law is spot-on in his analysis. Despite a rough 2011 that saw Lowrie race to an April OPS of .962 before sputtering to his season-ending .685 mark, there remains a good chance that Cherington can pull very good value should he engineer a swap this offseason — if only on the premise that Lowrie’s best years are still ahead of him. With Lowrie set to turn 28 just after Opening Day, this doesn’t seem like such a bad bet if one wagers his fast start in 2011 was merely a continuation of his torrid 2010 pace, which saw him hit .287/.381/.526 (.393 wOBA) with a 1:1 K/BB rate. He also enjoyed less-defined platoon splits than the rest of his big-league career.

Lowrie, a bit of an anomaly as a college second baseman-turned shortstop, was one of many well-regarded Red Sox prospects who gained notoriety for the club in the mid- to late-2000s. While on the farm, Lowrie proved capable with the stick (.286/.381/.486 line) while playing a decent, if unspectacular, shortstop. The bat has come and gone — as has playing time — in the majors, but his glove has been relatively steady, even as Lowrie has seen extended periods of action across the infield. This certainly bodes well for a young man whose bat has rarely been questioned.

Astute general managers will want to buy low on Lowrie after a rough 2011, but Cherington no doubt is wise to the pratfalls that limited Lowrie through his difficult season. For one, a nagging left shoulder injury might be to blame for Lowrie’s uncharacteristic platoon splits. For instance, Lowrie’s 2011 splits showed an .876/.582 split (versus RHP/LHP), which are well below his career marks of .919/.635. Given that Lowrie’s seen fewer than 1,000 plate appearances, spread over four big-league seasons, I think it’s somewhat reasonable to file the huge splits under the statistical-noise header. After all, despite these drastic splits in the major leagues, Lowrie’s minor-league splits aren’t nearly as discrepant. Perhaps with regular playing time, Lowrie’s numbers might have an opportunity to even out.

One more selling point that could work in Cherington’s favor is Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011 season. Ellsbury was also coming off a disastrous, injury-marred year at roughly the same age when he obliterated his career-highs in pretty much every offensive category and made a very compelling claim as the American League’s most valuable player. Of course, Ellsbury was a much more highly regarded prospect — peaking at 13th on Baseball America’s prospect list, while Lowrie checked in at 73 at his best. But if Cherington and the Sox brass would have learned anything, it’s that what you see is not always what you get.

In fact, the projections for Lowrie are glowing, especially if Bill James is to be trusted. James projects Lowrie as .271/.348/.437, which would be good for a .341 wOBA. For some context, that would have ranked sixth in the AL in 2011 among shortstops with 250-plus PA. Not bad for an extra tool lying around in the ol’ shed. I’m no mathemagician, but assuming average glovework from Lowrie — to go with that wOBA — he could project to be about a four-win shortstop. And that’s something that makes hefty cash on the open market.

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a former Minnesota Twins beat writer for 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, and current sportswriter for Sports Data LLC in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

36 Responses to “New Kid on the (Trade) Block: Jed Lowrie”

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  1. Yirmiyahu says:

    Lowrie sustained a left wrist injury in early in 2008. He played through it, but the injury sapped his power when batting left-handed. After trying rest and rehab, he ended up having surgery in 2009, and then had a number of setbacks. I recall that as of the end of the 2009 season, he was still dealing with wrist pain.

    As a switch hitter, this injury is certainly responsible for some of his platoon splits. But I don’t know whether the injury is something that still affects him.

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    • This is really good to note. With his pro splits being so discrepant, and so different from his minor league marks, I had to think something was up. This makes sense.

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    • Greg says:

      I believe he’s said in interviews that he’ll never have the same power from the lefty batter’s box. He has fewer wrist bones now than he started with; they took one out in the surgery and those don’t grow back.

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      • AK707 says:

        You have an invalid argument about the hamate bone=power forever gone: see one Panda, KungFu.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        AK707, the hamate bone is in the hand (not the wrist), and Lowrie didn’t have his removed.

        He had part of his ulnar styloid bone removed. He also had some ligaments reconstructed.

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  2. fip_drip says:

    Even the Sox fans who loved Lowrie have given up, he CANNOT play SS on a daily basis, anyone who trades for him expecting that will be very disappointed, he exposed as a defensive liability when he does. He also can not stay healthy, no matter how freakish the injury is, there is always a new one in the pipeline.

    His best role is as a supersub.

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    • I still think someone will see him as an all-hit, little-glove shortstop. As we see it, that’s not a great player to build around necessarily, but it’s a useful player.

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    • williams .482 says:

      I think He can play short at at least an acceptable level, maybe better than average. And the idea that Lowrie’s propensity for getting hurt is predictive seems somewhat silly to me. What does getting mono or injuring his solder have to do with his broken wrist? Those are totally different injuries, and did not cause each other.

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      • Greg says:

        The shoulder is the first and only one that could suggest poor conditioning. If we see him go down with shoulder problems again that will be a problem.

        But you’re right. His wrist is healed now, as much as it ever will be. And mono is contra-indicative of future infections: he has antibodies now.

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  3. AndrewYF says:

    Comparing Lowrie to Ellsbury is a fallacy. Lowrie has never been able to handle an entire season of baseball. He also can’t play shortstop competently. So you have a defensively-handicapped injury-ridden guy who might be able to play the corners competently, just about to enter his arbitration years. Hooray?

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    • wily mo says:

      he’s had his share of injuries and seems to be something of a slow healer, but i feel like he gets a LITTLE bit of a bad rap. the wrist thing bothered him for a long time when it was really just one injury – seems like he already had the “injury-prone” tag by the time the wrist odyssey was over, before anything else happened. then counting “mono” in the litany of “injuries” seems pretty unfair. that’s an illness. then people take the shoulder injury as final confirmation that he’ll never stay healthy.

      not saying he’s definitely not injury-prone, but there’s also such a thing as runs of bad luck. jose reyes was injury-prone until he wasn’t. (then he finally was again, of course, but guys like this can and do still run off a few impressive healthy seasons in their prime.)

      he’s also ok at 2B, as far as i know, so it isn’t really just “the corners” that he can play.

      just devil’s advocating a little.

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  4. Peter says:

    You casually assume average defense at SS without referencing any data or scouting reports. My impression is that with Lowrie, defense has always been the bigger question then offense.

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    • Did I miss defense becoming absolutely quantifiable? UZR and UZR/150 have him just above water for his entire career everywhere he’s played.

      If it seemed casual, it’s because over or understating his value would have seemed like a real reach either way.

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      • Joe says:

        He has ~1100 innings at SS.. That’s less than the equivalent of 1 full season and I think it’s hard to put too much stock in the UZR and UZR/150.

        At 2nd and 3rd, it’s ~700-800 innings combined

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      • Oh I know. Not perfect, but it’s what we have.

        Even ‘meh’ defense from a pretty good hitter goes a long way at a really shallow shortstop pool.

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  5. Gregory says:

    I don’t think you can bank on average SS defense from Lowrie.

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    • Maybe not average, but if he plays to his career numbers, he *could be* a 4 WAR shortstop.

      Even that might be a reach, but when he can be had for far less than that in terms of actual value*, he might be worth a look.

      *I say this not knowing exactly what Cherington would ask for. I can’t imagine it would be a ton, however.

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  6. Joel says:

    A potential shift back to second could open up more markets as well (Cubs?)

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  7. Preston says:

    I would think that with Scutaro’s age and Youkilis’s injuries over the past couple of seasons the Sox would want to hang on to Lowrie. Plus I don’t think anyone should count on Jose Iglesias ever hitting enough to be an MLB starter, no matter how good his defense is. A .235/.285/.269 split in over 100 games at AAA is pretty terrible.

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    • Joe says:

      Dead on.

      This is also Scutaro’s last year and Youkilis has a club option next year.

      Youkilis’ days at 3rd look numbered, if the Sox sign Ortiz for a couple of years I could see the RedSox not picking up that option or looking to deal him next offseason…. If they don’t sign Ortiz (or somehow manage a 1 year deal), then they could look to shift Youkilis to DH eventually and then plug Scutaro in at 3rd

      Unless Iglesias’ bat picks up, I don’t see him as a successor to Scutaro; while the Red Sox don’t need offense out of the position, I’m not sure they can live with a complete blackhole in the lineup. Keeping Lowrie around gives the Red Sox some flexibility next offseason at both SS and 3rd.(and some financial flexibility)

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  8. Carlcrawfordisawesome says:

    Haha, Lowrie is even more likely to get traded now because the REd Sox have won the posting for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima.

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  9. Scott says:

    Bill James’s projections always seemed overly optimistic to me. ZIPS has Lowrie at 252/316/406 next year, which seems more realistic. Still good for a shortstop, but not that close to a 4-win player, I think.

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  10. Eric says:

    Jhonny Peralta, Yunel Escobar, Asdrubal Cabrera, and JJ Hardy suggest you recheck your 2011 AL SS wOBA numbers. But Alexei Ramirez thanks you for overselling his .319 wOBA last season.

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  11. vivalajeter says:

    If he’s capable of 4 WAR then they may as well keep him. Scutaro can’t do that – he’s only surpassed 3 WAR once in his life. Iglesias is the second coming of Rey Ordonez. Neither of those players should block a 4 WAR shortstop.

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    • Tom says:

      Some perspective…..# of 4 WAR SS’s in recent history:
      2011 – 8
      2010 – 5
      2009 – 6
      2008 – 5
      2007 – 7

      If Lowrie is really a potential 4 WAR SS, the Red Sox at long last have found their SS of the future and they’d be fools to trade him. He would be a top 10 SS in MLB at 4 WAR

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    • PaddyG says:

      The problem isn’t ability — the problem with Jed has always been health. If the Sox can get a good return in exchange for exporting out the health risk and keeping surer things in Scutaro and Iglesias, it would make sense to do so.

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  12. PortlandYankee says:

    Whelp…given what is happening in Florida today the market for Lowrie might be frozen until they figure out what to do with Hanley.

    I have an idea: Trade him to Boston for Josh Beckett.

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  13. nnebloodgeor says:

    Jaeger Le Coultre, Jaeger Le Coultre Master Eight Days

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