Leave it to the national outlets to appreciate one of the guys we haven't talked about nearly enough here on TCB. But, the rash of Jed Lowrie articles seems to have died down some, even though the shortstop is on a seven-game hitting streak that's seen him almost double his home run output for the season.
What's going on with Lowrie? Can Houston expect him to be this good for the entire season? Should we worry about injuries derailing his progress?
Jed Lowrie was almost a unanimous pick by the TCB staff to be the team's MVP this season and he's showing exactly that kind of skill set. The shortstop leads the team in fWAR at 1.9 and, if he continues at this pace, would post the highest WAR an Astros player has seen since Lance Berkman's 7.9 in 2008.
That's right, Lowrie is not only producing like an All-Star right now, he's producing like a borderline MVP candidate. The interesting thing is the projections haven't yet caught up to what he's doing, as the ZiPS update still has him hitting just 15 home runs and finishing with 3.5 WAR.
A big part of that is ZiPS only thinks Lowrie will get 400 plate appearances this season, meaning he's only got another 250 in the tank for the next few months total. That goes back to the questions around his injury, so after the jump, we're going to look at that history, how he's done and whether he can sustain that success.
First of all, let's dwell on the injuries. Lowrie got a bad rap in Boston for being injury prone. But, as we've discussed on here, it's sort of overblown. He had three disabled list stints with the Red Sox. The first was after he suffered a wrist injury in 2009, requiring surgery for an ulnar styloid excision. I'm not nearly on Brooks' level of expertise here, but this is what I found on that injury:
Symptomatic nonunion of the ulnar styloid is an uncommon problem that is usually best treated by simple excision of the ulnar styloid fragment. Two types of nonunion of the ulnar styloid are described here on an anatomic basis, and their treatment differs. Type 1 is defined as a nonunion associated with a stable distal radioulnar joint. Type 2 is defined as a nonunion associated with subluxation of the distal radioulnar joint.
After having successful surgery in April of 2009, Lowrie came off the DL in July, but then went back on with ulnar neuritis, which is:
Basically, a little inflammation of the wrong nerve caused him to have trouble holding a bat or whatever. That put him back on the DL for the second time in his career, where he spent 32 days before coming back in September.
Since then? No real problems with his wrist, so it's not exactly a chronic problem. He did have one other stint on the DL in Boston, stemming from mononucleousis. That's right, an infectious disease. No back problems. No knee problems. Just an infection, which he got over and was back to playing later that summer. Both the wrist surgery and mono caused him to go on the 60-day DL, but he did get back and play some later in both of those summers.
Last season, he did not go on the DL, but didn't get a ton of playing time for Boston. That led to him getting flipped to Houston for closer Mark Melancon, in a trade that's working out quite nicely for Houston.
That's because Lowrie is hitting .289/.368/.496 and leading the team in home runs with seven. He's on pace to hit 28 for the season, which would easily clear the most homers ever by a Houston shortstop (Dickie Thon, 20). Lowrie has also played above-average defensively at short, providing value in multiple aspects on the field.
Oh, and he's got two stolen bases and has a chance to finish with 20+ homers and 10+ steals. No big deal, right? Only three Houston shortstops have ever hit 10+ home runs and stolen 10+ bases in a season. Lowrie may not be the fastest guy in the world, but he's providing fantastic value for Houston.
I know, we shouldn't try to project him during the middle of a hot streak, just like it'd be unfair to project him in the middle of a cold snap. But, all the indications are that Lowrie is doing this legitimately. His walk rate is well within his career norms (in fact, it's a little low), and he hasn't seen a marked decline in his strikeout rate either.
His batting average on balls in play is a tad higher than his average at .305, but not nearly so high that we should expect it to come crashing back to earth. It's pretty sustainable right there, meaning we can reasonably expect Lowrie to keep hitting like this for a while longer.
If anything, the biggest change for Lowrie has been an uptick in his line drive percentage. That could be due to not facing the pitching in the AL East, or it could just be a product of his health finally getting him back on line. Either way, it's cut down on his ground ball percentage. That's despite seeing a ton more sinkers this season than usual, which has been par for the course for this entire team.
His plate discipline numbers also look good. Lowrie has decreased the number of pitches he swings at out of the strike zone by about 10 percent, judging by FanGraphs data, but is making contact in the zone about as often. He just doesn't miss much when the ball is thrown in the zone.
If Lowrie stays on this pace, he'll get 30 home runs, 30 doubles and nine steals. Do you know how many players, not just shortstops, but players in franchise history have gone 30-30-10? Nine, and that list reads like a who's who of Houston MVP candidates, including Jeff Bagwell (six times), Richard Hidalgo in 2000, Moises Alou in 1998 and Carlos Lee in 2007. The only one of those seasons that didn't finish with the player in the Top 20 of MVP voting for the entire league was Bagwell's 1998 season, when he didn't finish in the voting at all, but Alou finished third.
Is Jed Lowrie there yet? Not after just 152 plate appearances. But, it looks more and more like TCB was right as a whole and Lowrie may just be the most valuable player on this team in 2012.