Another interesting name came up in the comments section when we did the shortstop keeper rankings last week. The Red Sox have a young shortstop from Stanford that had a good season, what’s his name again?
Right. Jed Lowrie. He of the nice walk rate (12.7% last year), booming ISO (.240 last year), and somewhat surprising 2010 slash line (.287/.381/.526), perhaps he should have been included? Perhaps.
But even before we get to his ability to repeat that performance, there is the fact that the Red Sox have an incumbent shortstop that may complicate issues. Marco Scutaro was just decent, but he’s predictable – he’s topped 2.1 WAR for three straight seasons now. Then again, Scutaro’s defense, now accrued in over 1400 plays, is below scratch (-3.5 UZR/150 career at SS). And he’s never shown a slugging percentage over .409, let alone over .500. If Lowrie can repeat his 2010 performance, Scutaro can easily settle into a super utility role… and there’s still the open job at third.
We can agree that Lowrie has more upside than Scutaro, and with 23 games at short under his belt, he’ll be eligible there – so now we can get to his ability to put up another OPS over .800. The variability in his possible 2011 performance kept him off the list at first, but perhaps it shouldn’t in deeper leagues. If Lowrie is to be an asset in fantasy baseball, he’s going to do it with his batting average and his power, so let’s unpack those portions of his game.
There’s no magic formula for a nice batting average. Lowrie, in his rookie season, showed a .258 batting average despite a strong .328 BABIP – and his strikeout rate was probably at fault (26.2%). In his lost 2009, Lowrie put up an eyesore of a .147 batting average by combining a terrible BABIP (.118) with lots of whiffs (29.4%). Lo and behold, once he ironed those two stats out last year (14.6% K%, .292 BABIP) and spawned this discussion most likely. That’s a lot of variance in his strikeout rate. Lowrie put up a 17.9% strikeout rate in the minor leagues (and over 20% in Triple-A), so it’s reasonable to expect him to strike out a little more next year. If he does, the batting average will most likely drop. This also meshes with his history well – even if you take out his lost 2009, he oscillated from .262 to .328 in the category down on the farm. Don’t pencil him in for a .280+ batting average.
Then again, plenty of players show value with poor batting averages, and a .500+ slugging percentage from a shortstop would paper over other flaws. He had a .161 ISO in the minor leagues, and his .172 major league ISO just barely topped the threshold for reliability (579 plate appearances). Since those plate appearances came over multiple years, it’s hard to say if even the .172 ISO is a repeatable skill for him. Looking over his minor league career, however, you will notice that he topped a .200 ISO in 2007 in Double- and Triple-A, and of course did so again last year. Only one qualifying shortstop last year topped a .200 ISO (Troy Tulowitzki), so this is no meaningless discussion.
Lowrie was a flyball hitter in the minor leagues – once he hit Triple-A, he never hit more than 33% of his balls on the ground – so at least he’s doing that part right. Sometimes players can have trouble with the line drive when they have so much loft in their swings, and even in his decent year last year, Lowrie showed a poor line drive rate (16.4%). There’s actually some upside left in him even if his strikeout rate returns. He could pair a strong line drive rate with all those flyballs and manage a decent batting average despite a worse strikeout rate – and of course his power stats would be happy with that combo.
Deep dynasty leaguers and AL-only keeper leaguers should find space on the end of their bench for Lowrie’s kind of upside. Because of the high level of variability in his possible outcomes, though, everyone else should probably just keep an eye on him in next year’s drafts.
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