It’s the most wonderful time of year. As the country keeps malls afloat searching for last minute gifts this weekend, they dig deeper and deeper into their pocketbooks with hopes of satisfying their loved ones with gadgets and toys that are, in most cases, not necessarily needed. On the contrary, the Cleveland Indians must find a way to placate their fanbase with an acquisition or four to patch up some obvious holes on their roster.
Look no further than Jed Lowrie. The veteran is getting a tad long in the tooth from a baseball perspective, sure, with birthday number 35 approaching with the start of the 2019 season. He has limited positional versatility, as the glove value he provides is confined to the middle of the infield which calls into question his precise fit with the Indians. His career arc has been marred by injuries. Of course, these are all viable knocks on him from a front office perspective. However, there are some promising data points that, in this author’s eyes, more than compensate for the previously mentioned flaws. Further, these flaws may be just the leverage the Indians’ budget-conscious management needs to attain a player fresh off a career high in WAR.
At 34 years young, the age concerns are more than valid. All data points to the mid-30s being the land of misfit toys from a regression standpoint. Despite being halfway through his fourth decade, Jed Lowrie is in the middle of a career resurgence, from a production and health standpoint. The disabled list has not been graced with his name since 2016. His production has not wavered over the last two years backed by a dependable skillset. Consistency is the name of Lowrie’s plate discipline portfolio – he can be depended upon to draw walks at an above average clip, usually teetering above a ten percent share of his plate appearances. Chasing strikes has never been his modus operandi, and even his lowest of low points have seen that skillset stabilize.
Beyond simple pitch recognition and discipline, Lowrie has done an exemplary job of maintaining contact authority, another staple that regression has yet to gain a foothold. At age 34, he posted an average exit velocity of 89 miles per hour, or 1.3 miles per hour greater than the league average in 2018. To put that mark in relative terms for Indians fans, it would be a career high for now perennial MVP candidate Jose Ramirez.
He draws walks. He hits the ball hard. Those are crucial outputs, but his most redeeming output might be the six inches between his ears. Jed Lowrie is a data nerd at heart. It’s far from an accident that he ended up in the Billy Beane’s organization. At six feet tall and 180 pounds, he is not going to wow anyone with his physique. He routinely references exit velocity and tracks opposing pitchers’ arsenals, as he believes this level of commitment is what allowed him to reach his peak.
Though he would deny a focus on launch angle specifically, the last two years have seen him optimize those specific outputs yielding extremely positive results. In an interview with SportTechie, he offered that his mechanical adjustments to his swing were crafted around hitting the ball as hard as possible. While plausible, it still shares common ground with the launch angle movement – his main goal is avoiding hitting the ball on the ground.
When it comes to betting on guys attempting to fend off the aging curve, it’s hard to find a worthier candidate than one who has continued to draw walks, maintained exit velocity, and shown an affinity for the data that goes into his numbers. Lowrie fits that bill.
Structurally, however, his position proves to be a complex fit. The recent exodus of Encarnacion and Alonso leaves the designated hitter spot free, though. With increased positional versatility by rostering Jose Ramirez and Jake Bauers, it should become easier to plug and place players throughout other parts of the lineup. Lowrie has been more than capable at second base throughout his career, so maybe you could bump Kipnis back into the outfield. These are questions you pay Terry Francona to answer.
As far as contract terms go, a reasonable guess at contract length would be two years. The average annual value is the larger question. It will mostly depend on the demand for his services, in addition to how clubs value his recent production against his age. If he were to fall into the ten to twelve million dollar per year range at the previously specified length, the Indians would be foolish not to heavily pursue his services. Assuredly, they are on the prowl for bona fide hitters, and there are few left on the market that can match what Lowrie brings to the table. Indians fans would be lucky to awake on Christmas morning to this present under their tree.