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Looking at Jed Lowrie's Minor League Platoon Splits

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 03: Jed Lowrie #12 of the Boston Red Sox runs to first base against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on September 3, 2011. .  (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 03: Jed Lowrie #12 of the Boston Red Sox runs to first base against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on September 3, 2011. . (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
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When the Astros traded for Jed Lowrie, the team acquired a switch hitting shortstop. One of the knocks on Lowrie's offense is that he has been much better against lefthanders than righthand pitchers in the majors. Lowrie's major league career platoon splits---lopsided in favor of hitting from the righthand side of the plate against LHPs---show the reason for this criticism.

Jed Lowrie addressed this issue when he was interviewed after the trade. Lowrie said that he is a quality hitter from both sides of the plate, and that his offense batting lefthanded had been hurt by injuries. Lowrie said that he has a history in the minors and, particularly, in college of production from that side. In a comment on a TCB thread at the time, I mentioned the difficulty of evaluatng this statement without a data source for minor league splits.

I recently discovered that has minor league platoon split data. The web site is a repository for some of the minor league platoon data from the old web site. At this point, the data does not include 2011 splits. With access to Jed Lowrie's minor league platoon splits, we can consider Lowrie's assertion that his minor league performance shows an ability to hit from both sides of the plate.

Looking at both Lowrie's minor league splits and his injury history, I see some support for Lowrie's position. The existing major league platoon split may not disappear in the future, but it's reasonable to conclude that the magnitude of the poor split batting from the lefthand side isn't representative.

I had some difficulties using the minor league split data because, without the ability to download or paste the data, summation of the data can be time consuming. To make my task more manageable, I focused on batting average, OPS, and calculated K/BB ratio for comparing splits.

Because Lowrie's AAA performance is closest to the big leagues, I examined his AAA splits for the period 2007-2009. I excluded 2010 and 2011 data for several reasons: (1) 2011 split data is unavailable; (2) the samples are very small (5 games or less in both years); and (3) these appear to be rehab appearances.

Lowrie's AAA platoon splits in 485 plate appearances are shown below.

International League 2007 - 2009

VS. LHP .260 / .787 / 1.48
VS. RHP .264 / .804/ 1.99

The interesting point here is that, in contrast to Lowrie's MLB platoon splits, he was a better offensive player from the left side of the plate (versus RHP) during his AAA career. His plate discipline was better against lefthanded pitchers, but otherwise he was a better hitter against RHP.

Lowrie's break out season was 2007, when he was named the MVP of the Red Sox AA team (Portland). Lowrie's AA splits are shown below.

Portland 2007

VS. LHP .353 / .993 / 3.14
VS. RHP .273 / .896 / 0.64

Unlike AAA, Lowrie's AA performance showed substantial platoon splits in favor of batting against LHP. However, Lowrie's offense against RHP was pretty good too. At this level, Lowrie showed much better plate discipline batting from the left hand side, driven mostly by an excellent 19% walk rate against RHP. However, he exhibited more power against LHP, with more than one-third of his hits against lefties going for extra bases.

The remainder of Lowrie's minor league career consists of short season NY-Penn league and one season of A+ ball. For both of these levels, Lowrie showed a platoon advantage in favor of batting lefthanded against RHP for batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS.

Lowrie is generally correct when he says that he was productive from both sides of the plate in the minors.

I don't have Lowrie's platoon splits as Stanford, but this article at Beyond the Boxscore in 2007, about a year and a half after he was drafted, said:" He [Lowrie] also has no perceivable platoon split, which is nice for a switch hitter."

How about the claim that injuries account for his poor platoon splits at the major league level? Lowrie had three injuries: broken left wrist, mononucleosis, and a strained left shoulder. Of those injuries, the wrist and shoulder injuries seem more likely to affect platoon splits. Lowrie broke his wrist on a collision at 2d base in 2008. The injury had not healed well in 2009, and he had surgery on his wrist in 2009. The shoulder injury occurred in a collision with an outfielder in 2011. Lowrie's worst platoon split at the ML level against RHPs occurred in 2009 (.391 OPS) and 2011 (.582).

Some other analyses agree that Lowrie's injuries caused his hitting problems against RHP:

All was going well, but then, on May 16 [2008], Jed Lowrie fractured his left wrist in a collision at second base while playing for Pawtucket. When he returned to the majors, his numbers against right-handed pitchers just weren't the same. By the time the playoffs came around, he just wasn't the same from the left side of the plate. ---Over the Monster

For one, a nagging left shoulder injury might be to blame for Lowrie’s uncharacteristic platoon splits. For instance, Lowrie’s 2011 splits showed an .876/.582 split (versus RHP/LHP), which are well below his career marks of .919/.635. Given that Lowrie’s seen fewer than 1,000 plate appearances, spread over four big-league seasons, I think it’s somewhat reasonable to file the huge splits under the statistical-noise header. After all, despite these drastic splits in the major leagues, Lowrie’s minor-league splits aren’t nearly as discrepant. Perhaps with regular playing time, Lowrie’s numbers might have an opportunity to even out. ---Fangraphs

Assuming that Lowrie is no longer affected by his wrist and shoulder ailments, I am reasonably optimistic that Jed Lowrie can improve his major league platoon splits with the Astros. That's not to say that his major league splits will be the same as his minor league splits: ML pitchers may be able to exploit platoon weaknesses better than minor league pitchers. But it's not hard to believe that Lowrie's injuries contributed to his gaping platoon split so far in the majors.