To ask this question one month ago would have been pushing on heresy, given the Cult of Lowrie that formed so rapidly after our young shortstop's brief flirtation with greatness. But here we are on June 15, and the love has dried up with the hits.
When it comes to Jed Lowrie, I can't help but look through rose-tinted glasses. I've always been an ardent supporter of the guy, perhaps because he was the first prospect I followed coming up through the system, not having been completely initiated into a world filled with frequent busts and fewer payoffs. But I still feel secure in saying that the expectations I held--and in some ways still hold--for Lowrie were not completely unreasonable.
This was, after all, the man who hit .287/.381/.526 in 2010 fueled not by BABIP, but by impressive plate discipline and a good deal of power. So what happened? What's gone wrong?
What can we say about 2011 for Lowrie? When he got off to his torrid start, reaching a 1.232 OPS on April 20, it came with a caveat. "He can't keep this up forever," we said, "and if he wants to sustain it, he'll need to start walking." We were right about that, but we had faith it was something he could do. In 2010, Lowrie had displayed some of the best discipline in the majors, swinging at only about 20% of pitches outside the zone. This year that number is up quite a bit, and it's showing through in his results.
It's not that he's being fooled by off-speed pitches necessarily either--Lowrie's struggles come primarily against the fastball, both in the zone and out. As nearly anyone around here will tell you, Lowrie just can't seem to put the right part of the bat on the ball, leading to pop-up after pop-up. There's the possibility that his shoulder has led to lower bat speeds, but the unfortunate truth of things is that Lowrie can't really afford to be hurt again. I've always been the first man to point out that he's really only had one injury in his career, far from being the fragile player he's been made out to be in the past, but another injury would really validate many of those concerns.
Meanwhile,as Lowrie's struggles have continued at the plate, so too have his difficulties in the field. We've seen him play a league-average shortstop or near enough to it before, and I'm not just talking statistically. Lowrie was certainly never going to win Golden Gloves, but he was also not botching pop-ups or drawing comparisons to Derek Jeter range-wise, either. The thing is that a bum shoulder really shouldn't have such a major effect here. Whether this is just a matter of Lowrie being a headcase, then, or having something else wrong with him I can't say.
If not Lowrie, though, then who? Just as Lowrie was starting to earn the derision of Sox fans, back came Marco Scutaro, and so far it's been a pretty impressive return, really. Scutaro has gone 10-for-26 with three doubles, two walks, and just one strikeout since returning from the disabled list--not something he's able to keep up, but certainly an indication that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with him.
When it comes down to it, Scutaro has always received more flak than he's deserved with the team. He played through injury last year, and was still a solid option for all that. It's hard to imagine he's ever going to return to his 2009 form, but he seems a more reasonable defensive option even with a seemingly weakened arm, and if he can produce a solid OBP than that's something.
But is it enough? The Sox have shown us over the last month that we should be thinking of them as title contenders, and when you've got a shot like that, you don't want to minimize it by leaving solvable problems unsolved.
Perhaps it's time to give Yamaico Navarro his opportunity. There are few questions about the young shortstop prospect's glove, and the past couple of seasons have seen his bat roar to life in impressive fashion. He most likely would have gotten the call earlier this season in place of Drew Sutton and Jose Iglesias had it not been for an oblique injury. Now, with his rehab starting later this week, Navarro could be ready to go in time to give the Sox a nice long look before the trade deadline--which, of course, is another option (and can of worms) entirely.
It bears mentioning that, despite everything, the Red Sox' shortstop duo is just about average for the league. We're not throwing slop out there every day. But there's also no question that neither player has lived up to expectations so far. So how about it, OTM? Are we confident that they can rebound? Is their current production enough to live with? Or do we need to shake things up at short?