In a season marked by injuries and bullpen meltdowns, Jed Lowrie's play in the 2nd half has been one of the very few bright spots.
Since being activated from the 60 days DL, the Red Sox 1st round pick (45th overall) in the 2005 draft has posted a gaudy slush line of .287/.381/.526 over 197 PAs good for a weighted On Base Average (wOBA) of .393 while playing some solid infield defense leading to an overall production of 1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) according to FanGraphs and 2 WAR according to Baseball-Reference. Clearly, he's been an asset for this team and considering his age/cost/versatility, he could offer a lot of solutions going into the next season and be a "safety net" if the negotiations with Adrian Beltre come non-conclusive. However, there's few questions that need to be asked:
- How healthy is Lowrie's wrist?
- What is Lowrie's true talent level?
We'll try to answer those questions after the jump.
A lot of Jed Lowrie's future value is tied to the health and strength of his left wrist: He's a switch hitter who'll have to swing from the left side of the plate most of the time and being able to drive the ball with authority against right handed pitching make him an above average hitter instead of a platoon player. Let's take a look at his injuries history:
- In May 2008 while playing at Triple A Pawtucket, he suffered a sprain and a small non-displaced fracture in his left wrist while keep playing: ailments that worsened as the season wore on. The injuries gave Lowrie occasional pain and affected his grip strength, particularly late in the season: Righthanded, he hit .338 with a .525 slugging percentage (SLG%). Lefthanded, he hit .222 with a .334 SLG%. Lowrie finished the season in an 8-for-51 (.157) slump, but he played 52 of the Red Sox' 53 games in August and September despite the worsening symptoms.
On October 21st 2008, an MRI revealed those injuries. After discussing with the medical staff, the team and the player chose to avoid surgery. The MRI showed that the wrist has begun to heal and should be back to full strength with three weeks of rest.
"For me it was just about getting my wrist healthy," he said. "Obviously that was the No. 1 priority and I took about a month off to just let it heal. We decided not to do surgery just because there wasn't enough time. I probably wouldn't have been ready for spring training if I had the surgery. It was just a matter of giving it some rest and trying to strengthen it back up.
On February 12th 2009, He arrived at the Sox' Player Development Complex for ST. He said to be in good shape and has been hitting and throwing in Tampa for the last month. He ended the spring as Boston's best hitter, finishing at .343/.400/.657 with three homers.
He started the first 5 games of the season going 1-18 with 8 Ks and on April 13th, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left wrist sprain.
On April 21st, 2009 Lowrie underwent what was described a successful surgery on his left wrist and was expected to be able to begin swinging a bat in six weeks with an eye toward returning to action in June or possibly July.
On June 19th, 2009: Started his rehab stint in Pawtucket.
On July 18th, 2009: Recalled to the majors, he hit a home run in his return to action against the Blue Jays.
On August 6th, 2009: Jed Lowrie irritated his left forearm on a check swing and had to be pulled from the game. 2 days later, he was put on the 15 days DL.
After consulting with Dr. Donald Sheridan (the specialist who performed the surgery on his left wrist) on August 11th, the diagnosis was that he had "some nerve irritation... which created the tingling," manager Terry Francona said."They're giving him some oral meds that they think will calm it down, and then they'll work on his strength.
On September 10th, he was activated again from the 15 days DL with the idea of not playing him a lot: 12 plate appearances during September.
- After game 3 of the ALDS, Theo Epstein declared:
This is a young player we really believe in who has been hurt as a big league player. We’ve not seen the type of player he can be yet at the big league level because he’s been playing hurt the entire time. At some point, the player has to get healthy to be able to show what he can do and to be able to help the organization. "I don’t think we can hand a job to him because he hasn’t proved his health yet at this point
and the team went to the FA market and signed Marco Scutaro.
- After checking again with Dr Sheridan on September 14th, Lowrie wrote in an e-mail to weei that the prognosis was good and with rest, strength and conditioning it should be 100 percent. He went to Canada and spent the winter doing therapy and learning new taping techniques.
- 2010 Spring Training: :(
- July 5th, 2010: First rehab assignment with Lowell and the rest was: :)
"Towards the end of the year it really didn't matter what I did," he said. "I just kind of hit that wall. The strength went down, even with the same routine [of taping it] that I had been doing all year." ProJo Feb 14, 2009
You can notice the decrease of hits to RF (I've done the counting and there was 14 hits to LF and Center versus 12 hits to RF) but also some limited HR power. Now here's Jed spray charts for the past season:
He seemed to be able to drive the ball again to RF (most of his hits are in RF) with more authority than ever before (His Isolated Power to RF as a LHH was .415 this year versus .189 in 08) which could be explained by a finally healthy wrist combined with physical maturity.
“I’m really happy with the way I played this year and the way that my body responded and get ready for next year and be ready to go’’ Red Sox Note Book: Lowrie looking ahead
On a personal note: I start really worrying about JL career after that tweet from Amalie Benjamin
Lowrie irritated his left forearm on a swing. Yeah, I don't think I've heard that one before. #redsox
It was during a Series versus the MFY in the stadium. Almost a year after that incident/tweet, at the same place, Andy Pettitte on the mound, 2 on, 1 out, First pitch, 89 mph Cutter, on the outside part of the plate: Boom! Gone! Yeah, I know, he was swinging RH but hitting an opposite field dinger show me that those forearms are back to being strong and that left wrist is finally doing fine: The baseball gods like to screw with me!
True talent level:
The problem when evaluating Lowrie's true talent level is that we're dealing with a small sample size of plate appearances of a healthy Jed. I chose to go with this year production simply because this is the period where he was fully healthy:
Looking at the peripherals above, none of them looks unsustainable: Some of us could be skeptical toward the power numbers mainly the result of the Home Run per Fly Ball rate (HR/FB) a rate that changes from a hitter to another and because of the size of the sample (~200 PAs) that we're dealing with here is too small (according to Pizza Cutter work) we can only evaluate it from a scouting view and he really looked good at the plate. Keep in mind that 11.4% is not very high, Kelly Johnson (ARZ 2nd baseman) for example, has a career 10.9% HR/FB, and that in his last full season in the Minors, Lowrie has slugged .503 between AA and AAA as a 23 years old prospect with 47 doubles.
As for the rest of the peripherals, Here's what those 200 PAs could tell us about a healthy Lowrie talent level.
- 50 PA: Swing%
- 100 PA: Contact Rate
- 150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
- 200 PA: Walk Rate, Ground Ball Rate, GB/FB
All those core rates (beside the GB%) look very good in Jed's case. However, some writers have been skeptical about his projected performance for next season: Some of them based on statistical analysis alone and some others based on there-will-be-regression (flawed) logic. Both of this projections don't take into account that Jed Lowrie will show up next spring training with a left wrist at full strength (2 years removed from the surgery) and a body fully recovered from mono. He'll be also entering his prime.
I don't expect him to put a .393 wOBA again, but I see him playing better defense with a .370 wOBA.
Bill James Projections for 2011 are: 270/.361/.467. I'll take it!