Mike Lowell under the radar, on pace for over 100 RBI

Evan BrunellFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2008

Mike Lowell was the talk of the town last year and netted the World Series MVP award. He was also bestowed with the most famous award of all time, the 2008 Fire Brand of the Year Award. And yet, he’s not engendering the same amount of chatter this year. He may not be having as good a year as he did last year, but did you realize he’s having a better year than two years ago, his first in a Sox uniform?

Manning the hot corner this year, Lowell’s hitting for a more than respectable .282/.344/.481 line and his Value Over Replacement Level Player (VORP) is 15.1, good for 14th out of 52 third basemen. He’s on pace to crank 22 homers and get 101 RBI. Pretty good considering he missed 19 days in April.

While he’s not back to his 2006 defensive level, he’s much better than last year. He has six errors on the year, good for a .974 fielding percentage (.961 last year) and a 2.91 Range Factor (2.51 last year) and a .834 Zone Rating (a career high excluding his seven-gamer as a rookie with the New York Yankees).

The one knock against Lowell is his first- and second-half splits, a reputation that’s starting to circle around Kevin Youkilis as well. In his career, he has a .850 OPS in the first half of the year and .763 after the All-Star Break. Part of his success last year was staving off that decline — he actually posted an OPS 20 points higher than the first half last year at .889. It’s a small sample size so far for this year, so I’m not too concerned about his .356 (yes, .356) OPS in five games after the Break (that statistic doesn’t include his two-hit game last night’s game, one of which won the game).

Taking into consideration his historic trend of going down post-All Star Break plus factoring in the righty/lefty split, I think it makes sense to put J.D. Drew in the five-hole when David Ortiz returns (tomorrow! Yay!) and either a) push Lowell and Youkilis down a spot or b) put Youkilis in the two-hole and Jacoby Ellsbury in the seventh spot. Either way, the addition of David Ortiz to the lineup means a top-notch bat will be hitting seventh. Ahh, shades of 2003.

Whether or not you think Michael Almanzar or Will Middlebrooks will be ready to take over the hot corner in 2011, Mike Lowell’s shown himself to be far more than a salary dump in the Josh Beckett trade. Who would have thought he would ink a contract that was more expensive than the one that got him shipped out of Florida?

He’s shown that he certainly loves Fenway, and I remember my first impression of him being that he sure liked to bang doubles off the Green Monster. Hitting .309/.374/.510 in Fenway for his career, he certainly hasn’t shied away from the Monster. Lowell’s got a .868 OPS in Fenway this year and a .797 away, which would be concerning only if last year hadn’t been an even bigger disparity: .993 home (that’s Hall of Fame caliber) and .767 away.

Believe it or not, the home-road disparity may actually have undervalued Lowell so far on the year. He’s played 12 more games on the road than at home, and with nine home games coming up against the Yankees, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics, we’ll certainly need his bat bashing doubles off the Monster (and if we’re lucky, homers over the Monster). If he stays true to form and produces better at home, his slash stats of  .282/.344/.481 may go nowhere but up. That’s assuming, of course, that he doesn’t have a second-half tailspin, which is a distinct possibility.

So far, Lowell’s three-year contract is looking pretty good, as he’s locked up through age 36. Considering Chipper Jones is hitting .372 at age 36, I don’t think we have too much to worry about. What do you think?