Jed Lowrie Is Quickly Becoming a Desirable Fantasy Baseball Asset
When Yonder Alonso started absolutely banging for the Oakland Athletics this year, it warranted plenty of attention from the fantasy-baseball community. This was a guy with 12 dingers through a month and a half, already setting a new career high. Of course that's going to snag some eyeballs.
The best part about Alonso is that this all aligned with a reported change in his philosophy over the offseason. Alonso told FanGraphs' Eno Sarris that he was working to loft the ball more, so when that played out in his early-season results, it was time to leap before others noticed he was a new hitter.
Something spicy must be in the water out in Oakland. Alonso isn't the only Athletics player undergoing a major change in his batted-ball data. He isn't even the only guy on the right side of the diamond. Just a few feet to his right, Jed Lowrie is starting to make some noise of his own.
Jed Lowrie hits a home run to deep right field to give the Athletics a 8-3 lead in the bottom of the 6th inning!!! #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/fFNNciOffI
— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) May 20, 2017
Fantasy owners who picked up Alonso early in the season are likely spilling tears of joy at their keyboards right now, knowing what a bargain they got when they picked him up. It's time to wipe those eyes clean and get ready to pounce because another aged Oakland hitter may be ready to burst on the scene.
Hard Contact Galore
Let's start this off with a little game of blind resume, shall we? Here are some quickly-stabilizing rate stats for two separate second basemen, numbers we can trust more than a player's triple slash in a small sample. Which one of these do you think is going to produce more fantasy goodness?
|Player||Hard-Hit Rate||Fly-Ball Rate||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate|
Because we're crushing on Lowrie right now, and the top row has the decided edge, it's clear that Lowrie is Player A. The hard-hit rate is awesome, and he bests Player B in every category except fly-ball rate. Even there, the runnings are tight.
Player B was Brian Dozier last year when he blasted 42 home runs. Does Lowrie have your attention now?
Obviously, not all hard-hit balls are created equally, so this isn't an attempt to say that Lowrie is a lock to send 36 more homers into the seats this year. But it should show you that the numbers he's posting now are absurdly impressive, and we should expect him to keep producing at an above-average rate.
Lowrie has opened his first 181 plate appearances with a .278/.348/.451 slash, adding up to a .346 wOBA. The big-league averages for second basemen are a .254/.325/.396 slash with a .314 wOBA, meaning Lowrie is a pretty healthy deviation from the norm.
His batted-ball data certainly makes it seem as if this is all sustainable, but we also don't want to put all of our eggs in that basket. Instead, it can be good to delve into the Statcast data on Lowrie to see if it backs up what the initial signals are saying.
FanGraphs' Andrew Perpetua has developed a formula that will predict a batter's production based on his exit velocities, launch angles, and other data, all of which is public on the site XStats.org. If we run Lowrie's expected data through the ringer and compare it to his actual marks, we don't see much deviation.
This isn't luck for Lowrie; dude is just playing really good baseball.
Time to Buy High
So, if this is all legit, the question then becomes how we assess Lowrie going forward. Considering he's owned in just 19.9% of season-long leagues on ESPN and 7.0% on Yahoo!, you can likely just pick him up and be on your merry way. But with how saucy his peripheral stats are, he may be worth buying even if someone already snatched him in your league.
Among qualified second basemen, Lowrie is second in hard-hit rate and third in fly-ball rate. He also has the 13th-lowest strikeout rate of the 28 qualifiers, meaning he should continue to contribute in the batting average category going forward. His ninth-ranked walk rate will give him chances to score runs.
Across the board in the categories he can control, Lowrie is clocking in as a starting second baseman in 12-team fantasy leagues. We can't simply crown him as such before checking out his situation, though, as that will also play a role.
Volume is not an issue for Lowrie, who generally hits in the top third of the order whether there's a righty of a lefty on the bump. And the A's offense -- which ranks 12th in wRC+ -- is good enough to help him out with runs scored and RBI. Those aspects of his situation are golden.
The one remaining bugaboo for Lowrie is his home park. The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum ranks 22nd in three-year average park factor, largely due to the chilly temperatures in Oakland during the summer months. As other stadiums heat up in July and August, Oakland will largely remain the same, helping keep a lid on Lowrie's offensive expectation.
That's the one flaw we can find in Lowrie as a fantasy asset at the moment. Is it enough to prevent him from being a respectable second baseman in your season-long leagues? It shouldn't be.
The possibility always exists that Lowrie will be traded to another team if the Athletics fall out of contention. While that presents the risk that Lowrie's role could be reduced to a bat off the bench, he's hitting well enough to curtail such thoughts right now. And if he moves to a better team or a better stadium, his situation could get even better.
All of this combines to make Lowrie a guy we should be trying to buy while his season-long marks remain relatively modest. If he keeps bopping the ball the way he has, the runs scored, RBI, and dingers will follow. His strikeout rate should help him avoid lengthy slumps, as well. This is a four-category contributor at a key position who can't even wiggle his way onto rosters almost two months into the season. It's time to fully embrace Lowrie for the solid hitter he has been and hope that his impressive peripheral stats keep propelling him forward.