Four years ago, Jed Lowrie was moving up the ladder in the Boston Red Sox farm system as their top hitting minor-leauger. He won an award to that affect, following a 2007 season spent with the Portland Sea Dogs and Pawtucket Red Sox in which he batted .298 with a .383 On Base Percentage. He was one of the organization’s top prospects, desired by other teams, and demanded to be included in trade proposals. And, rightfully, Boston was reluctant to part with him. Called up in 2008, his expectations were high. Then, the injury bug hit–and it wouldn’t stop bogging him down.
He showed flashes of brilliance at the plate and helped Boston to many victories. He had the mind expected of someone who went to Stanford. He had a good eye at the plate, was fairly patient, and proved he could be a .300 hitter if healthy. ‘If healthy’ was the story of his days in Beantown. He never accumulated more than 341 plate appearances in a season. He never played in more than 88 games in a season. He hurt his shoulder. He had mono. He broke his wrist. He dealt with other injuries. He was subject to bad luck. He wasn’t the player anyone thought would he would be.
Now, in December of 2011 after four seasons with Boston, he is a member of the Houston Astros. He was traded to the team that will be in the American League West come 2013 along with young pitcher Kyle Weiland. Just as was the case in Boston, “if healthy” is the collection of words that define how successful he can be. The Astros see him as being their starting shortstop. If Lowrie seizes the opportunity and produces, the trade that netted Boston reliever Mark Melancon will be a win-win.
Even though he was injured often, Lowrie was stuck behind Julio Lugo in 2008, Nick “The Pitcher” Green and Alex Gonzalez in 2009, and Marco Scutaro in 2010 as well as this past season. His potential impact is greater than any amount of success he has had, and the deal that sent him to Houston shows how much his new team thinks of him.
The Houston Chronicle‘s Steve Campbell dissects the deal, focusing especially on Lowrie and his potential:
“Consider this: FanGraphs set Lowrie’s Wins Above Replacement at 1.9 (and the value of his performance at $7.8 million) in 2010, when he posted an on-base-plus slugging of .907 in only 197 plate appearances. For the 74 1/3 innings Melancon worked in 2011, FanGraphs set values of 0.8 and $3.5 million. The hunch here is that the WAR system undervalues Melancon, but that’s another discussion for another day. The bottom line is that a starting shortstop has more bearing on a team’s season than one reliever.”
Lowrie believes he can be the player Houston is looking for. All the switch-hitter needs to do, besides stay healthy, is hit better from the left-side of the plate.
“I know I can hit from the left side,” Lowrie said in Campbell’s article. “I’ve had a couple unlucky injuries that have really affected my lefthanded swing. I know I’m a quality hitter from both sides of the plate. I’m going to do the work necessary to get myself ready to be what I believe to be a .300 hitter on both sides of the plate.”
Prior to getting injured this past season, he proved what he was capable of. He was the starting shortstop in April and was on fire at the plate from the beginning. In 68 at-bats he hit .368 with a .389 on base percentage. There was hope he was finally turning into the player Boston once selected in the first-round. That didn’t happen, as he tailed off and missed significant time, but though he is 27 there is still time for him to harness his potential.
ESPN’s Keith Law, as documented in Campbell’s article, sees this trade as a bad move for Boston despite their getting a reliever who posted a 2.78 ERA in 74 1/3 innings and collected 20 saves. “Unless the Red Sox know something we don’t about Lowrie’s medicals, this looks like a real loss of value for them,” he wrote.
There’s the hope that it proves to be. That will mean Lowrie, four years in to a tumultuous career, will have finally kicked the injury bug and hit his stride. He has the chance to be the guy at shortstop with no serious competition. He has waited for this moment. And the player Boston balked at including in a 2007 proposed deal for Cy Young winner Johan Santana deserves to make the most of it.