Jed Lowrie has played for three organizations already, despite having accrued little more than two full seasons worth of Major League plate appearances. That might be because the oft-injured 29-year-old has never had so much as 400 plate appearances in a given season since his major league debut in 2008. Through it all, he’s been trying to shake off those injuries and prove himself as a young veteran in the league. Maybe we’re just getting to know the real Jed Lowrie now.
Lowrie himself doesn’t look at a lot of his own stats. “I dictate my stats, my stats don’t dictate me,” he says. No matter what stadium he calls home, he thinks the goal has been the same — it’s just been about how well he’s executed the plan. He’s been focusing on hitting line drives and hard ground balls all along but he’s just had varying degrees of success.
He’s always trying to level his swing plane and hit line drives. Oakland “isn’t the easiest park to hit home runs in,” so that approach fits well, but it’s not like Boston is the best park in the world: certain spots are easy, but otherwise that park can get “enormous.” He didn’t try to pull the ball more just because Houston was conducive to power, but maybe the balls he did pull were home runs more often, he explained.
Just so we can see how similar his approaches have been, here are his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratios and pull and opposite percentages over his career (with his short-sample 2009 taken out):
Huh. Looks like he was right about Houston… and he might have (subconsciously?) put a few more balls in the air to take advantage? It also looks like he has his most level swing plane going right now, maybe. But you could also say — if you zoom out on his career — he’s hit just under one ground ball for every fly ball and been a slight pull hitter most of the time (40% pull would have ranked 127th of 278 hitters with at least 200 balls in play last year). Even if he doesn’t consult these stats, they’re reasonably stable and follow his explanation.
He’ll admit to checking out his batting average on balls in play in the past. He finds the stat interesting. “Last year, I had one of those years where I hit a lot of balls at people, and my BABIP was well below average,” he pointed out. And it’s true, not only was his .257 BABIP in Houston below his own average (.290), and the league average (.295), but also under his own, personal expected BABIP (.293) given his mix of batted balls and speed.
But that’s not the only way he’s been unlucky. Lowrie points out that “a lot of my stats have been based on my playing injured.” That kept off the field while he was injured, and also affected his projected career arc. Jeff Zimmerman has found that players who play through injury often outperform their projections in future seasons (FG+). The Oakland shortstop is well on his way to duplicating that finding this season.
Predicting injury is almost impossible, but recently Russell Carlton — though he was looking at pitchers — found that past disabled list visits predicted future disabled list visits better than any other peripheral. Others have posited that health is a skill. Is it one that Lowrie doesn’t own?
“I’ve had these injuries that you can’t combat — they’re not wear and tear injuries,” said Lowrie, adding that the “really frustrating about the injury thing is that I know that I’ve done the training and everything that I can to stay healthy.” And the electronic patches that were rigorously pulsing on his neck while we were talking? “This is just an aberration, I just woke up and my neck hurt, just an old-fashioned kink in my neck.”
Lowrie is right that his injuries haven’t been torn hamstrings or ankles rolled on the bag at first. They’ve been more violent as he tells them. There was the broken wrist from a guy sliding into second base into his glove. Then he had surgery the next year on that same wrist. In 2011, a collision with his left fielder left him with a subluxed shoulder. Last year, someone slid into second base and hurt his leg.
“Collision-type impact injuries that don’t happen a lot in baseball, but for some reason happen to me,” said Lowrie, and he’s right, with an asterisk. Because middle infielders have to complete the turn, an inherently dangerous activity. You’d think shortstops would go down all the time. And yet, Jeff Zimmerman recently updated his disabled list graphs, and shortstops miss the least time in baseball, relatively:
So maybe Lowrie is right to say that he has had little control and his injuries have been freak. “I think if you were to ask any of my strength training coaches that I’m one of the hardest — and smartest — workers that they’ve had in there,” Lowrie said, adding “I can’t control everything.” If he were suffering hamstring injury after hamstring injury, we might be more skeptical.
“I’m not breaking down, I’m just in the wrong place and the wrong time,” said Lowrie. But that won’t stop him from making the hard play at the turn — “I’m going to play the game.”