Fresh Take: Jed Lowrie Is A Mirage
I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but Jed Lowrie’s .346/.404/.605 triple-slash line is, in fact, a mirage. Yes, he’s a terrific little power player, but this is nothing other than a small sample-size excursion where he’s barreling up more balls, giving him a homerun-to-flyball excursion from the left-hand side of the plate (recall that he’s a switch-hitter). I wanted it to be something more, but it’s not. Please enjoy it while it lasts, and it could last all season, but it probably won’t. Why? Because he’s homered on 5 out of 6 balls that he’s pulled in the air.
So what the heck am I talking about? I’m talking about this. What is this? This is what I call a control chart, for exit velocity. I show a player’s average exit velocity (as well as 95+ mph batted ball events) over time, along with the average and two standard deviations on either side. Players have ups and downs, peaks and valleys with their exit velocity as they go through hot streaks and funks. The encouraging thing is that he’s pulling the ball 55% of the time from the left-hand side in the air in the early going as opposed to his air-ball profile from the past (which was historically more neutral to opposite-field heavy). This is a worthy trend to monitor.
It’s also well-known that fly ball exit velocities decrease in the second half of the season, with the exception being the second half of 2015 when the juiced balls were introduced. Want to see that in chart format? Pretty sure you do. I’ve circled the start of the last three seasons. You can see it peaks and plateaus around June and then steadily declines throughout the season. Looks like there are local maxima in August, likely due to the humidity allowing the balls to carry farther.
Back to Jed Lowrie. He’s having what I call an excursion, where he’s squaring up more of his batted balls (what Statcast would call barrels) and thus hitting more home runs. Pay attention to his left-handed batted ball profile. He’s not hitting more balls at what are usually HR launch angles (grey and black boxes) but he has homered on 20% and 67% of balls he’s hit at those angles. To add to the madness he’s also homered on 2 out of 4 balls he’s hit at 32-40°. His lifetime HR/FB ratios for those types of batted balls are 2%, 16% and 10% respectively. Again, this is being driven by his 55% pull rate on fly balls from the left-hand side.
I think I’ve solved the mystery of Jed Lowrie. Perhaps he’s just found a way to barrel up more of his batted balls from the left-hand side, but I’m skeptical. As previously stated, if he were to continue pulling the ball in the air this would definitely lead to a career year in HR/FB and would translate to a 30HR season at a 55/30/10 spray angle distribution from the left-hand side when you include his right-handed HRs as well.
A more likely scenario would show Lowrie spraying the ball more 40/30/30 which would lead to a 24HR season (still a career high). And lastly, the rosiest scenario is that he homers on 25% of the balls he pulls in the air (career average 18%) thereby ending the year with 32HRs with this more neutral, yet pull heavy 40/30/30 distribution of flyballs.