Every once in a while, something as simple as the way a player is talked about can give us some insight into their fantasy value. Take, for instance, this recent tweet from Ken Rosenthal about Jed Lowrie and Oakland’s plans:
Lots of speculation that #Athletics would move Lowrie. Keep hearing no. Plan was for him to be two-year bridge to Russell. This is year two.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 12, 2013
There are a few things to unpack here.
First: “two-year bridge?” Don’t they know this was the fifth-best shortstop in fantasy baseball last year?
Of course, the real-life game isn’t played with numbers, we know that, and defense matters. Lowrie’s defense has been below scratch by the metrics, and is probably less well-regarded subjectively. The A’s infield was one of the worst defensive infields in the American League this year, and he was part of that. He’s played one-third as many games at positions other than shortstop, too, so his teams know he’s a borderline defensive shortstop. The team’s best prospect — Addison Russell — is on the fast track, getting time in the Arizona Fall League to prepare him for Double-A and the future. So, there are aspects of his real-life situation that go beyond his fantasy numbers and point to him being a short-term solution for the Athletics. He’s a free agent after this season, after all, and this is a team with three guys on free agent contracts.
More ephemeral and less concrete is the feeling behind the tweet. It’s not “we can’t trade Lowrie because we don’t have a ready shortstop,” it’s “we planned on him being a bridge and just letting him go, and so that’s what we’ll do.”
And yet, nothing Lowrie did last year was out of the norm. He walked a little less (7.6% in 2013, 9.2% career) and struck out a little less (13.7% in 2013, 16.7% career), but those are still within range of his career numbers. He had a .156 isolated slugging percentage last year. His career number is .163. He hit 15 homers. His career high is 16. He had a .319 batting average on balls in play. His career BABIP is .296. He stole one base. His career high is two.
Basically, he’s a doubles hitter with a good batting average at a tough position at the top of a lineup on a good team. Matt Carpenter rode a similar equation to greatness last year.
Of course we’ve left out the obvious part until last. Lowrie had 662 plate appearances last year, and his career high was 387 going into the season. He’s missed time due to: right thigh strains, concussions, a fractured right ankle (surgery), mono, non-fracture ankle problems, foot bruises, neck strains, and right hand soreness. Last year, he achieved his career high despite missing a few games due to that random ailments. He has to be considered more likely to hit the DL going forward than your average player.
His history suggests that banking on 600 plate appearances is folly. Then again, you’ll see that not all of his injuries are of the same scope. He had a healthy year last year but still missed time with thigh, neck and foot problems. He missed massive parts of two years when he fractured an ankle and needed surgery. And Lowrie himself is quick to point this out, as he told me that his worst injuries came from “Collision-type impact injuries that don’t happen a lot in baseball, but for some reason happen to me” when we talked this year.
It’s entirely possible that he’s right. A 29-year-old professional shortstop will strain a hamstring or an abdomen from time to time. You could even call him slightly more injury-prone for it. But the big gaps in Lowrie’s playing time came from collisions in the field. And there’s little evidence that shortstops are more likely to have that problem than other positions.
Given the fact that he’s not a pull hitter, makes good contact and has better-than-league average power, you could take the over on his projected batting average (.264). And if you buy that he can avoid a collision for another year, you could even take the over on his projected playing time (563 PA). Call him a stop-gap or a star, injury prone or unlucky — Jed Lowrie can play.
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