Ok, I’ll admit it. I thought Mike Lowell was done. Toast. Stick a fork in him. I mean, the guy hit .236 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and only eight home runs in 558 plate appearances last season. That’s a little too Neifi Perez-like for my taste. Having a down year in 2005 was also a good way to bring about nasty steroid rumors from the public forum.
One of Theo Epstein’s strengths as general manager is signing a few extra high-risk/high-reward players and seeing what sticks. Coming into 2006, the Red Sox had Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis, JT Snow, and Hee Seop Choi ready to throw into the 1B/3B mix. It was hard not to see Youkilis and Choi eventually snatching up the starting spots against right-handers, with Lowell managing to play against lefties, and Snow available in the old Doug Mientkiewicz defensive replacement role. Lowell’s always enjoyed hitting against lefties, but he’s flipped that pattern on its head this year:
So far in 2006, Lowell‘s made a statement hitting a league-leading 17 doubles as part of a .339/.402/.550 line. Somebody likes the Green Monster, but how much of his resurgence can be explained by switching home ballparks? Florida’s Pro Player Stadium is traditionally a pitcher’s park, while Fenway is perhaps the oldest hitter’s park and Lowell has shown approximately the same amount of power on the road as at home the past few years. As most players tend to hit better at home if all other factors are held constant, that’s a point for Boston.
Another interesting tidbit shown by the previous graph is a tendency for Lowell‘s power to fall off a cliff towards the end of each season. (Maybe he just decided to spend the whole season at the bottom of the cliff last year?)
Considering Lowell‘s career batting average is .274, his current .339 average is wishful thinking. Are there any secondary signs that Lowell has made changes from last year and isn’t about to crash and burn? Well, he’s cut down on strikeouts a bit and increased his walk-rate slightly, resulting in a significantly higher walk to strikeout ratio (BB/K). And his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is at a career-high; something than can partially be attributed to Fenway.
But another factor to consider is what types of batted balls are coming off Lowell‘s bat this season. His line-drive percentage has shot up to 24%, a good sign for the batting average, but he’s traded a lot of fly balls for groundballs, a very bad sign for the home run totals.
A high-average doubles hitter isn’t what the Red Sox were expecting, but it’s a lot better than the 2005 version of Mike Lowell. If we allow for a batting average decline to .300 while maintaining the same hitting profile, Lowell’s still a .300/.360/.510 third-baseman. Hey, Boston loved the real Wade Boggs, so why not the right-handed version?