Fantasy Baseball: Jed Lowrie Makes for an Intriguing Watch List Candidate

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Fantasy Baseball: Jed Lowrie Makes for an Intriguing Watch List Candidate
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Chances are, if you're a committed fantasy manager, you have at least one team where you're not particularly happy with the standing of your middle infield. 

The depth and injury questions that characterize the upper tiers of both second base and shortstop provide a perplexing issue for fantasy managers.

For those of us who opt out of overpaying for big names, finding consistent production—especially in deeper leagues—can be an problem.

So, when a guy comes along with the potential for high impact and eligibility at both shortstop and second base, it's good to take notice. Jed Lowrie fits that description, and he's available in just four percent of Yahoo leagues and 0.9 percent of ESPN leagues.

Much of Lowrie's fantasy relevancy stems from the stellar end to his 2010 campaign. After struggling with injury for most of his first two seasons in the bigs, Lowrie was finally healthy last season.

He became a regular in the much-maligned Red Sox infield over the final two months of 2010, and he put up some rather gaudy numbers, albeit in a small sample size:

Lowrie 2010: 55 G, 197 PA, 9 HR, 31 R, 24 RBI, 1 SB, .287/.381/.526 slash line, 12.7% BB rate, .240 ISO, .393 wOBA, 143 wRC+.

Lowrie suffered from a wrist injury for a good chunk of his first two seasons in the bigs (2008-09), and as a result, his power was almost non-existent. He struggled to drive the ball, hitting just four HR in 382 PA's, a 1.1 HR percent.

But last year, Lowrie showed the ability to drive the ball, an indication that he was no longer hindered by his wrist problems. His nine home runs in 197 plate appearances translates to a 4.6 HR percent.

The caveat with Lowrie, however, is the incumbent shortstop, Marco Scutaro, who—at least for now—has the starting gig. After a breakout 2009, Scutaro returned to form with a less-than-stellar not-quite-terrible 2010:

Scutaro 2010: 150 G, 695 PA, 11 HR, 92 R, 56 RBI,5 SB, .275/.333/.388 slash line, 7.6% BB rate, .112 ISO, .319 wOBA, 93 wRC+.

I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought Lowrie deserved more of shot to win the starting job than he got this Spring. Little separates them defensively and it doesn't take advanced statistical analysis to discern that Scutaro's ceiling lies much lower than Lowrie's.

But Red Sox manager Terry Francona is a "Scutaro guy." In a season which the team had issues just getting players onto the field, Scutty gave them 150 games (second highest on team) and 695 PA (highest on team), despite suffering through a myriad of injuries for most of the season.

So, at least for now, Lowrie is on the fringe. Currently, he's serving as the teams super-utility infielder, and he's managed to get himself at least one at bat in seven of the team's eleven games thus far.

He's regularly splitting time between first, second, third and short, and he's made two starts at short and one at third already.

But Lowrie is also 7-16 (.438) to start the season, one of the few hot bats on a Red Sox team that has stumbled to a 2-9 start and a .230 team average.

Scutaro, on the other hand, is 5-29 (.172), one of the five regulars hitting below the Mendoza line.

Even before the season started, there was speculation that Lowrie could seize the starting job from Scutaro. Now, with the team's slow start, those voices have only grown in magnitude.

It's become apparent that Lowrie, when playing to his fullest ability, is the better player by a significant margin.

Lowrie offers the Red Sox a number of advantages over Scutaro. His plate discipline is the real deal; Scutaro has a career OBP of .336. He's a switch hitter capable of hitting anywhere in the order; Scutaro only operates as a number 8-9, or a number 1 hitter.

He's a line-drive/flyball hitter who could be a doubles machine if given a full seasons worth of at bats, and who appears to have average-moderate power; Scutaro is mostly a singles hitter with below average power.

Perhaps most importantly, a Lowrie-Scutaro flip wouldn't drastically alter the dynamic of the team. Lowrie could continue to fulfill his "utility" role—in the sense that he can continue to play various positions when the Red Sox shake up the lineup—while starting the majority of his games at short.

Marco Scutaro has spent the majority of his career as a utility man, and he can backup the shortstop and second base position more than adequately.

 

Recommendation:

At this point, Lowrie is worth a speculative add in deep mixed leagues and AL only formats.

In shallower mixed leagues, he should be at the top of your watch list. The Red Sox haven't given any indication that they intend to make Lowrie the full time starter, but it seems illogical to keep the player with a great deal of upside on the bench, especially when he's outperforming the starter.

If Lowrie were to suddenly find himself with a starting job, consider him a must-own in all formats.

Lowrie would likely bat anywhere from 6-8 in a starting role, although he could move up to the fifth spot if the Sox sit David Ortiz against a tough lefty.

He'll likely have on base machines like Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez hitting not too far in front of him, so the chance for RBI will be there even if he's batting lower in the order.

Position eligibility is also something to consider. He's already qualified at second and short; he could end up with third and even first base eligibility before the season is out.

 

Dan is a Boston Red Sox featured columnist and a baseball fanatic. You can follow him on twitter @dantheman_06.

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