Injuries. Jed Lowrie has had them multiple times which has hindered his development. After reaching the majors in 2008 because of an injury to Julio Lugo, Lowrie had pretty much his whole 2009 season interrupted by wrist problems. 2010 saw Lowrie succumb to mononucleosis which caused his season not to start until July 21st. After a decent 2011 season that also saw Lowrie battle for playing time with Marco Scutaro, it looked like 2012 would be a fresh start for the switch hitting shortstop as he was traded to the Astros.
Jed Lowrie (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
The fresh start did not last long for Lowrie and was then interrupted in July as he battled injuries to both his thumb and ankle. All signs point to Lowrie being healthy entering 2013 as he begins the season as one of the few Astros with a guaranteed role. Despite the fact that he only had 340 at-bats last season, he did hit 16 home runs so that was a nice display of power. He only hit .244 in 2012, but that is not where Lowrie’s value lies. If he does stay healthy there is no reason why he can’t hit .270, but having a shortstop that can hit 20-25 home runs and drive in runs as well is valuable. This is especially true for the Astros as they do not have much in the way of proven run producers.
A case can be made that Lowrie’s average last season was partly due to bad luck. In all honesty, with a BABIP of .257, Lowrie was lucky to hit .244. Despite the fact that Lowrie hits the ball in the air at a high rate (51.3% fly ball rate last season) his 16.8 strikeout percentage last season is actually below average. In a lot of cases, especially with players who do not traditionally hit for a high average but do hit for power, strikeouts are often the culprit, which is not the case for Lowrie. But even more importantly, based on his major league history thus far, Lowrie’s fly ball rate and rate of HR/FB (11.3%) is sustainable. If he is fully healthy, it also would not surprise me to see his HR/FB increase slightly.
Even more important to Lowrie’s future success than his fly ball rate, is his line drive rate. That has steadily increased in each of his last 4 seasons and was 19.3% last season. The more line drives Lowrie hits, the better it will be for his batting average and for his run production. Even if it does not lead to any additional home runs, Lowrie will be fine there if he just increases his at bat total to 500 (23.5 HR in 2013 based on his 2012 pace). The main area where the Astros do need Lowrie to contribute is in run production, and based again on his 2012 pace and 500 at bats, that projects to 62 RBI. Those numbers are pretty good production from your middle infielder, but I think Lowrie could even be capable of a little more than that if he stays healthy.
In the first two months of the season Lowrie hit .297 and .275 before he really was affected by the injury bug. His April numbers were artificially boosted by a .354 BABIP but his May performance makes sense with a .272 BABIP. His struggles started in June and led to a .269 first half BABIP which was not nearly as bad as his second half BABIP of .204. This leaves room for optimism for this season, but the elephant in the room remains. Will he stay healthy?
In Lowrie’s defense, his injuries have been different throughout his career and he has had some bad luck relating to his health. He was a highly regarded prospect by the Red Sox before they deemed him expendable but at 29 (the age he will be for the majority of the season) all is not lost for Lowrie. He could prove to be a valuable player for the Astros in 2013 as their middle infield could prove to be a clear strength. It is possible Jose Altuve will have some competition to represent the Astros in the 2013 All-Star game.